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The Lucy Variations

Try harder, Lucy. Lucy stared down at Madame Temnikova’s face. Which seemed incredibly gray. 

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?”


I was in the mood for something light after reading Nothing to Envy, so I picked up Sara Zarr’s latest novel at the library (I haven’t read any of her other books). As it turned out, it wasn’t actually so light; it’s kind of unsettling, though obviously nothing compared to Nothing to Envy. The thing is, the family that Lucy lives in is so demanding; she’s always supposed to be perfect, to be achieving, rather than having fun or enjoying life or seeing beauty. The pressure was so much that Lucy quit her piano playing, further disappointing her family. She felt like she didn’t have a choice about anything, and it’s true. But the thing is, Lucy is really good at piano. And she likes doing it, but not for the competition. Just for the sheer joy of music and creating something beautiful. 


Lucy’s family was kind of scary, seemingly perfect: wealthy, loving, and all of that, but at the same time too demanding, chillingly demanding. They’ve basically stolen her childhood from her; ever since she started, she was expected to play phenomenally, to play good exhibition pieces. Although obviously The Lucy Variations is fiction, it was scary how realistic the Beck-Moreau family seemed. Lucy’s mother and her grandfather are the main ones pushing her and her younger brother too hard, but her dad never seems willing to defend either of them. Perhaps it was a bit unrealistic, how cruel and unseeing they were, not seeming to want Lucy to actually be happy. Lucy’s mom and grandfather kind of reminded me a bit of Wren’s parents in The Infinite Moment of Us, although much worse. Her grandfather in particular was awful, but I felt sometimes that the way that Lucy acted was odd too, not bothering to show up to school on time a lot. There’s a simple solution: get an alarm clock. Zarr does attempt to humanize Lucy’s maternal side a bit, but their characterization was a bit low in terms of sympathy.


Lucy’s family is pretty wealthy, and that adds to Lucy’s sense that she’s a brat or a bad person. She kind of takes certain luxuries for granted. It was interesting that rather than being a family of the idle rich, the Beck-Moreau’s are the opposite, pushing their children to work, work, work. 


The Lucy Variations certainly wasn’t a great novel, but it was, I suppose, interesting enough and a fairly quick read. It wasn’t a super fun, mindless read though, because there are a lot of difficult elements. Still, it’s kind worth reading and I’m glad I tried Sara Zarr. The third person narration was a bit odd; YA is mostly in first person, and I guess Zarr was trying to do something a little different. But it served to make The Lucy Variations more detached, as I understand that Zarr’s other novels are all in the typical first person. It’s true that I also get annoyed when so many young adult books are first person, present tense. I think my favorite style is probably first person, past tense; it’s more immediate but not too much so.


Like John Green’s novels, this is young adult contemporary, but I think books like The Lucy Variations are of an inferior quality to his books, which are gripping, enthralling, and at times heartbreaking. The Lucy Variations was none of those things; it had a lot of strong emotion on the part of the characters, but since it was narrated in third person, it didn’t really make me feel anything strongly. The writing was rather unremarkable, although I do think Zarr captured really well the balance of happiness, fun, andsuccess needed to enjoy life and have a meaningful life. Perhaps the difference is that The Lucy Variations focuses pretty specifically on one specific issue, whereas John Green’s books kind of don’t. I don’t know; I’m just speculating here. What do you guys think? But really, John Green is the best young adult author out there. There’s no question in my mind. See, The Lucy Variations was good, but I don’t think I’d ever feel like revisiting it or anything. Once was enough, whereas John Green’s books I could read again and again (I’m actually planning to do a John Green (novel) Marathon in January). I’m not even sure that I’ll want to pick up another Sara Zarr novel.


Still, The Lucy Variations wasn’t bad, and it was good for a few hours of entertainment with some (but not much) thought. 


308 pages.


Rating: 3.5 stars.

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