Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release: May 7, 2013
Source: Library
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?

The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.
Reading books about professional performers tends to be an engrossing experience for me. As a passionate person and a choir singer myself, I can relate to their dedication to music, although I am never anywhere near their level. Their personal crises fascinate me, spellbinding in their illustration of what talent of that caliber can do to a person. I am almost always riveted, attached to the characters and unwilling to turn away from the world.

This was not the case with The Lucy Variations.

Music books often begin with the protagonist on the top, just beginning to teeter, but this tale opens with Lucy already having left her instrument behind. She admits that she worries she has lost her heart, her ability to love, after snapping in the face of expectations. She shows this shift by drawing away from her family and dancing through conflicted, not-quite-romantic mentorships with older men in her life. As much as she wants to feel again, people's expectations have pushed her passion away, ultimately leaving her with no choice but to pen it up, and this deeply buried emotion under a fa├žade of apathy creates a disconnected character that a third-person narrative does not help bring to life. With such strange, difficult-to-relate-to characterization, the author makes it nearly impossible for readers to connect with Lucy the way I usually can with fictitious musicians. However, despite her distance, I fell in love with the protagonist anyway.

Although Lucy's personality was new for me and eerily unpleasant at first, the more intensely I looked into it, the more fascinated I became with her conflicted character. She begs for dissection, and Sara Zarr dares readers to analyze her every action, examining her family dynamics, her friendships, and her in-between relationship with Will. I adore this kind of strange character who I must ponder and theorize about in order to not hate, but as much as I grow to understand them, I rarely end up connecting with them. This is not a problem for me; while I do like relating to protagonists, I find equal enjoyment in watching them from the outside if they are as intriguing as Lucy. However, the main character's initial distant quality may present a problem for some readers.

But those who, like I was, are initially put of by or even continue to be put off by Lucy's early aloof personality should continue reading because, unlike other music-based YA I have read, her tale is one more about rediscovering a love of song than losing it. The protagonist grows so much in her ability to express herself through notes, actions, and words and becomes warmer and more human by the chapter. Her shifts in desires and decisions will have readers cheering for her and even beginning to connect with her just a bit.

With its removed protagonist and distancing third-person narrative, The Lucy Variations creates an emotional setup hidden from readers, providing a rewarding journey for both the characters and those who encounter them. Working to understand Lucy is a battle well worth it because hers is the kind of characterization that requires work from the reader, not just the author. And once she clicks into clarity, her story shines in a splendor even more entrancing than the crystalline notes she creates on her slender, ivory-colored keys.


  1. I know I love to find music-related books, but oftenvfind myself being unsatisfied with them, but considering that I am an avid piano player myself and I enjoy following interesting characters, even drom a distance, maybe I'll enjoy this book!

  2. Sounds like an interesting read, and Lucy seems like a fascinating character. I do like music-themed novels, but I tend to read "rock" type music books and not so many classical reads!

    Oh, and I'm looking for some bloggers to help with a discussion post on their own blogs, and I think you have great discussions, so if you want more details, just shoot me an email - lauren51990 AT aol DOT com I don't want to bother you if you're too packed with posts, etc.


  3. I also find myself drawn in by music related books, or any book about fine arts, really. They can definitely be engrossing! Too bad this one didn't fully provide that. But it does sound like it has its strong points, especially as you gradually begin to understand the main character. Great review, Emily!

  4. Booh I really love reading your reviews. And I like your take on this book. I personally gave up early on because of the distance Zarr maintained between the MC and the reader but maybe I'll give it another go bc I really do love Zarr and well, your review...


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