Book review: The Lucy Variations by Sarah Zarr

This popular young adult author focuses on themes of friendship, self-discovery and family dynamics in her young adult novels. The Lucy Variations stays true to this while adding a musical touch!

Lucy is up to her neck in a family of musicians. Not just regular hang out sing/ play for fun musicians. But very serious, competitive snobby ones! Her Grandfather is ruling with an iron fist basically. Everyone must be the best. He has to have the best teachers, instruments, clothes ETC and his family has to perform the best and not reflect poorly on the family name! Yes he does say that about the family name!

Lucy’s family live in a rich part of California complete with all Grampa’s expensive stuff, and a possibly gay housekeeper! (what other guy calls people doll)LOL!

In Lucy’s 15 years she has been to too many competitions, recitals fancy receptions and any other kind of serious musical venue to count. She and her ten year old brother Gus have followed in the family footsteps in the music world. Traced back to their Uncle that got some conducting baton from World War II or something!

The book starts with Gus’s current piano teacher having had a sudden stroke and dying in their living room! In this family the teachers come to them, and this woman was very old and it was very upsetting obviously. To Lucy especially as she tried to revieve her and failed. The paramedics said there was “probably’ nothing that could have been done. That probably haunts her for awhile.

In contrast the rest of the family far from grieving see the teacher’s death as more of an inconvience than an emotional loss. It shows readers right away that this family especially the mother and grandfather are too wrapped up in image and intellect and continuing to pursue musical goals to be caught up in emotions.

Gus has a showcase coming up and he’s in need of a new teacher. Not from the academy of course because Grampa had a huge fight with someone there a million years ago and so now it’s banned. Sorry but this guy is just too much! It is revealed that Lucy is not part of all this planning/ searching for a teacher. Why? Because she walked away from music nine months ago.

One day at a very important competition she just walked off stage literally. We don’[t know why until later in the book.

The new teacher is Will. He brings a breath of fresh air to this uptight family. On his first meeting with the overdramatic family and all their regalness he has Gus improvise on the piano and signals Lucy to join them. This about causes her an anxiety attack. His question do you want to play sets off something deep inside her. Yes. She does want to play. Just that thought brings up so many thoughts and feelings and past memories.

We slowly learn how she was pushed into competition after recital and more competitions/ festevals. At the time she thought she wanted this for her life. As she gets to know Will and his open, self-inquiring nature she sees that she was just following the path set in stone by her grandfather and doesn’t know herself at all.

Will continues to teach Gus and Gus finds a kindred s spiret in Will. Lucy is turned upside down emotionally with questions about what she’s been doing all her life. Will guides her in his own way. A thanksgiving trip that her mother and grandfather take leaves the kids and Dad at home giving Lucy even more of a space to think/ act on these urges. She has to get drunk in order to play that first time. But that breaks the barrier and she secretly starts playing again.

She talks more with Will and has a crush on him. Her friends feel that she just wants attention/ an audience and that’s why she’s always seeking approval. Another side of Will comes out when he invites her to a party of other musicians. I and she thought this would be some kind of jam session. But there were no instruments. But too much talking about the upcoming showcase for Lucy’s new awareness/ self to handle. Especially when she finds out that Will invited key players in the local music scene to be there and talk to Lucy about actually performing. Which she hadn’t even really thought of doing yet. Will had put the idea in her head shortly before the party, as a way to confront her grandfather in terms that he understands best music. If he could see her play andsee the passion she still has then he could accept it. Rather than his seemingly final response to things, that Lucy walked away from music and disgraced the family so badly that she can never play again.

She feels very betrayed that Will went behind her back and did this. Because in part it was about his own self-esteem and image wanting to show the world that he was the one to bring Lucy back to the spotlight. This taints her idealized image of Will. On the ride home from the party Will plays a CD that Lucy made. She actually made a cd of herself with an Orkestra. She heard that music and it brought badck all the memories of that recording. Her beloved grandmother who died the day she walked away from the competition was there and a calming force for everyone.

This floods her with more mixed emotions/ thoughts. Does she want to go to music school? Studdy music history in college? Teach? Do something else? Her mind is a complete mix of aspirations and questions. Esentally what every teenager/ young adult goes through. Even little kids have wild imaginings of what they “want to be when they grow up.” For Lucy the path was set in stone probably since she was born. So now everything is hitting her all at once.

Telling her Dad iseasiest. He has no musical talent and is sort of an outsider to everything. Though it hurts him to see her grandfather’s affect on everything and the constant fighting. He basically says to go for it. Telling her mother is much harder. They have a fragile relationship as it is, as Lucy feels she disappointed her mom along with everyone else by not playing anymore. Her mother just listens and they both cry. Her mother deep down understands what it means to be shoved aside and told you aren’t good enough. As around Lucy’s age she was gently encourgaged by teachers to not throw herself into music fully as in music school ETC due to her not having a high level of potential. (how one can say that to someone I don’t know) She wishes she had gone back to music on her terms, maybe taught or felt able even within herself to want to play again. This gives her the strength to finally

Stand up to her father. Which doesn’t go well! Gus also is extremely angry feeling that Lucy “stole” her teacher by also having a friendly crush like relationship with him. As she continues to sort through her thoughts and feelings, her self-exploration expands from just music to her looks, hairstyle (she cuts her hair herself!) clothes and choices in music she listens to.

On the day of the showcase things come together for her within her personality. Seeing that Will again has made this about himself instead of her interests is emotionally hurtful to her. It teaches her an important lesson about people having major flaws and still having amazing qualities. In an act that stuns the audience at the last minute Lucy chooses a piece very different from the one she was supposed to have played. Talk about breaking the mold. But it’s at this point that Lucy realizes the truth of her friend’s statement about needing an audience and that she needs to “be her own audience.”

At the end of the book she has chosen to go to the accidemy hated by her grandfather, alone without any family trailing behind her. She is a new person as she enters on that first day.

The book is full of questions and food for thought around self-discovery and the complexity of all our relationships. I look forward to people’s thoughts on the books and its issues.

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