Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
Lucy is a normal teenager in every way except one. She is a piano virtuoso. At fourteen she was winning all kinds of competitions and was even recorded with the Cleveland Orchestra where she was the piano soloist. Just when it seemed that her talent was coming to a crescendo, Lucy quit the piano and hadn't even touched it for ten months. All of her family members attention shifted to her younger ten-year-old brother who was also extremely gifted on the piano. Now Lucy is just a normal teenager, going to high school, doing her homework, hanging out with friends, fighting with her mother, and wondering what happened to her and where did the music go. When her brother gets a new piano teacher, Lucy is lured back into playing. But can she play the piano without getting sucked back to the life she despised? Can she find a way to live a balanced life where she, not her family, make the decisions about what is best for her?
After finishing The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr I set the book aside thinking that normal teenagers, patrons of my library, would not be able to relate to Lucy and her issues. Students at my school don't have parents whose jobs center around their children and their musical talents. My students can't afford sweaters that cost $400 and obviously, because they attend a public school, don't have the funds to attend a private school, especially a music conservatory. Then I started thinking about other books that are great favorites where the characters live very different lives than normal teenagers. Books can teach us things about ourselves and our lives without being identical to our experiences.
Ultimately Lucy is struggling with herself. What kind of life does she want to live and who should have the say in those decisions? Aren't those questions that all teens grapple with? My students may not be struggling with which conservatory to attend but many will grapple with what college to attend and what classes to take. All teens have to negotiate their relationships with their parents as they mature. These are universal themes. Lucy makes some good and some bad decisions along the way. She hurts people that she loves, yet she finds ways to make things right. She struggles to find balance in her life, something that she didn't have the first fifteen years. These are issues my teen readers will be able to relate to. In addition, musical students will appreciate all the musical references from musical terminology to actual titles of both classical and modern songs. I even spent a bit of time with iTunes listening to the short sound bites of songs referenced in the book.
If you are looking for another review of The Lucy Variations, I recommend that read The Playing's the Thing by Vivien Schweitzer of the NYT. Her review of the book has both a fuller summary (hint: a few spoilers) but really crystallizes the beauty of the book and the writing. This review turned my thinking from "meh" to good.
Lucy reminds us all that we need to find the joy in our lives. When she returns to music she won't allow it to control her, like it did before, "when she'd be too stressed to think about the beauty of music, when she'd trudge to the piano like it was punishment."
I consumed this in the audiobook format. Sara Zarr, the author, read the book herself and did a nice job. I also enjoyed the musical interludes though I did notice that the book might reference the music of a famous composer and then the audio recording would play a piece by a different composer altogether. It bugged me at first but I didn't think about it much as I got more immersed in the story.
At the end of the book Lucy shares a list of her favorite songs. The song Happier by Guster was one of the songs on the list. I think (my opinion) that part of the reason Sara Zarr selected it because of the picture where a kid is smashing a piano. Have a listen. If you go to YouTube someone has compiled videos of all the selections. Take a look at all of the, Enjoy.
Metamorphosis by Philip Glass is an appropriate selection thinking about what the word means and that it is a piano selection.
Thanks Sara Zarr for an excellent book and for bringing some new music into my life.