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.