Finally, a new YA book I can feel genuinely enthusiastic about! I just read Sara Zarr’s new book, The Lucy Variations. It has been getting strong reviews all around, and rightly so. I always am fascinated by books about teenagers who are particularly talented and/or driven.
In this case, Lucy is talented but not so driven–at least not any more. Eight months before the book’s dramatic opening scene (in which Lucy tries, but fails, to resuscitate her brother’s music teacher, who has had a stroke), Lucy has walked off the stage at a music competition in Prague. Since then, she has not played a note on the piano.
She is now back in high school, in San Francisco, while her younger brother Gus prepares to take up the family mantle of musical prodigy. Lucy is trying to discover who she might be without music in her life, when her mother and grandfather are the sort of people for whom life without music is nothing at all. She has a crush on her English teacher, Mr. Charles–I loved the part where she chooses to write a paper on Alice Munro’s short stories, because a Google search has informed her that he wrote his thesis on Munro. Lucy is used to being around adults, and to getting her own way with them, and it is interesting to watch her as she realizes that Mr. Charles fully understands his role as teacher, not friend.
A lot of the book centers around Lucy’s relationship with Will, her brother’s new music teacher. Will is an interesting character, and I think Zarr does a great job of presenting him–through Lucy’s eyes–as someone who has a genuine interest in Lucy and in her playing, but who also has some very personal issues tied up in it as well. In some ways, he’s the anti-Mr. Charles. He clearly wants to serve as mentor and friend to Lucy, but he isn’t always completely clear about where the lines should be drawn. He wants to help her, but also he feels compelled to use her in the fulfillment of his own career.
Just as an aside, the San Francisco locale was done very well, and my absolutely favorite part was when Will and his wife Aruna invite Lucy to a party at their home, and Lucy finds out that they live in Daly City: “Lucy couldn’t picture Will and Aruna in a gray place like Daly City. She’d assumed they lived somewhere hip like Cole Valley or the Haight.” Heh!
So, anyway, I think there is a lot going on in this book, and it could definitely bear re-reading. Lucy’s relationships with her mother, her father, her grandfather, her brother, and her best friend are all drawn beautifully and skillfully. As Lucy learns more about who she is and what she wants to do, those relationships all change, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but in ways that feel very right.
I hope you read this book so we can discuss it more fully later on.