Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading … The Lucy Variations

Monday, April 29, 2013

Just Finished Reading … The Lucy Variations

Review of The Lucy Variations
by Sara Zarr
To be published by Little, Brown BFYR
on May 7, 2012

Source: e-ARC from the publisher

Connect with the author: website : Twitter.

Summary (from Goodreads:) Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain. That was all before she turned fourteen. Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death and a betrayal led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
My take: I've read and enjoyed all of Sara Zarr's books, but this one might just be my favorite. The Lucy Variations is a beautifully crafted coming of age story, but also a deeply moving exploration on joy and its connection to the creative process.

Lucy Beck-Moreau is definitely very different from the characters Sara Zarr usually writes about. The protagonists I remember from her earlier books -- Jennifer in Sweethearts, Sam in Once Was Lost, Deanna from Story of a Girl -- were underdogs and small town outcasts. In contrast, Lucy is a girl who seems to have it all: a musical prodigy who's also (as Jane Austen described Emma) "handsome, clever and rich." But Lucy is also guilty, confused and miserable about the circumstances that led her to walk away from her promising future as a concert pianist.

Those circumstances are slowly revealed over the course of the story, and I don't want to say exactly what they were, but it becomes clear that Lucy has lost someone who offered her something that the rest of her impressive family doesn't: unconditional love. That loss, combined with her fallout over her decision to quit playing, has left her completely adrift. Lucy soon realizes that there is something she misses more than playing the piano:

"It has been too long since she had that thought, that feeling. Of joy and things being right or at least okay."

With subtlety and sometimes even humor, The Lucy Variations explores so many fascinating themes -- families and the way they both support and undermine us, grief and loss, success and failure, trust and betrayal. I thought that one of the most interesting parts of The Lucy Variations was the way that it raised the issue of happiness and its relation to achievement and the creative process. Do we do something that we love only in the hopes of achieving public acclaim and recognition? What do we do when we lose faith in our abilities, or when others have lost faith in us?

Lucy is trying to answer all these questions, and she's feeling lost. She's not used to feeling ordinary rather than special. Her unusual childhood has rendered her somewhat unfit to live as a regular sixteen year-old. She's spent much more time among adults than kids her own age, and mostly keeps to herself at school. This aspect of Lucy's life led to a plot development that had me worried that the story was going to veer in a direction that struck me as both predictable and disappointing. I put the book down. I fretted. I almost peeked at the ending. I shouldn't have been worried. My experience with Sara Zarr's writing is that she always chooses the subtle over the obvious, the unexpected over the predictable, and she did not let me down.

As a piece of writing, The Lucy Variations is very impressive. Every scene, every character, every subplot worked to enhance the whole. Even though I am the most un-musical person on earth, I found Lucy's struggles to reclaim her life and her sense of joy about the world incredibly moving. I have held off on the music puns for all this time, but here I go: The Lucy Variations did not strike a single wrong note.


  1. I'm really looking forward to this one-I play the piano although nowhere near professional quality and I always enjoy music books. I also really liked Once Was Lost so I hope Zarr's writing style continues to click with me.

  2. Family, loss, success, failure, trust and betrayal! And it handles them all well? I am intrigued. I liked some of Zarr's other books as well, so need to get ahold of this one asap
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  3. I'm going to be honest...I wasn't really interested in this one until I read your review. And you've definitely made me want to pick up her other novels, as well.

  4. This sounds fabulous!! I hadn't heard of it before, but it seems like a book I would like. Great review hon!

  5. Not heard of this one before but I really like books about music. Thanks for sharing this one!

  6. I didn't gravitate to this book cause i wasn't appealed by the cover :( i know that's wrong but thanks to your review i've gotten over myself and decided to check it out. Great review.

  7. Oooh and book that makes you fret! Excellent :-))

  8. This is your favorite Sara Zarr? That's saying a lot because I've loved every book of hers I've read so far. I was already planning on reading this, but now after reading your review I'm scrambling to work this ARC in sooner! So excited!! Lovely review, Jen :-)

  9. Well you don't have to worry about flubbing a review for a book you love because this review is EXCELLENT, Jen:) I haven't read anything by Zarr (I know) but your review definitely has me wanting to check out this book:) Nice job.

  10. I need to read something by Sara Zarr. She wrote another book, which I can't think of the name right now that I really wanted to read as well. Anyways, sounds awesome.

  11. I have yet to read anything by Sarah Zarr, but I am interested in how this story deals with the descent from a perfect/ideal situation into one that is less so. And I think I can definitely get behind an author who goes for the subtle over the obvious. I'm glad you're able to continue to love the books that Zarr writes. Perhaps I will make The Lucy Variations my first experience with Zarr!

  12. You have no idea how excited you have made me to get to this one. I just have to decide how I'm going to buy it... paper, e-book, or audio. It's a big decision!

  13. Jen, what a gorgeous review! This is pretty far outside my usual 'book type' but I'm going to have to check it out (along with the author's other work). ;)

    Sabrina @iheartyafiction

  14. Honestly I love piano on the cover and I'd probably read a book just because it has music in it. I didn't know it was so good! I'm now really interested in this one. Great review!

    PS. I like your new design (I'm late I know) :)

  15. Want this! I love books about music prodigy's and this one sounds fabulous and you loved it so I really don't see how this can go wrong for me!

    1. And that should say "prodigies." I'm way tired still!

  16. So glad you loved this. I have not read any of Sara Zarr's novels yet but I look forward to it. I do own Sweethearts that I've been meaning to read. :)

  17. I haven't read any of this author either! But this book sounds really fantastic. I love books about accomplished musicians. I don't play anything, by my best friend from growing up is a professional violinist, and she used to feel so lost on days that she didn't practice. I can understand how lost this girl feels without the piano anymore. I'm curious about whatever made her stop. I'd also like to experience this author's writing. Thanks for the review!

  18. Oh I have this one too, I totally forgot about it. I'm glad that you loved it so much, that has me eager to pick it up. Absolutely wonderful review!

  19. I must say that I am pretty darn intrigued by this book! I've never read any Sara Zarr books before, so maybe I should start on her others before I get to this one. What do you think?

  20. This is a book I haven't seen before. I was a music major my freshman year of college, so I've been in the music scene. Sounds like an interesting read and since you loved it so much, it will definitely be something I'll pick up. :)

    Tressa @ Tressa's Wishful Endings


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