Book review: 'The Lucy Variations' tackles talent, expectations

By Emily Ellsworth

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

"THE LUCY VARIATIONS," by Sara Zarr, Little, Brown, $18, 304 pages (f) (ages 12 and up)

Lucy Beck-Moreau, the title character in "The Lucy Variations," has spent her childhood behind a piano. At age 14, big performances, important concerts and celebrity status defined her life, and her future as a pianist was spread out in front of her.

But that was before.

Now Lucy is 16, and has put the brakes on her career and all things piano following the death of her grandmother. Between feelings of betrayal and overwhelming expectations by her family, Lucy vows never to play the piano again. But when her replacement, younger brother Gus, gets a new, young piano teacher, she opens the question of whether or not she will play again.

Sara Zarr, who currently resides in Salt Lake City, is known for writing contemporary characters and stories that seem to transcend pages and come to life. “The Lucy Variations” is primarily about a girl facing expectations that seem insurmountable. After being deemed the best before age 16, Lucy faces a great deal of trepidation about what that means for her future. She rightly struggles with issues of self-identity and wishes to chart a course for her own life that is not dependent on others’ expectations. Her struggles also include dealing with friends and teachers in ways that many teen readers will be able to relate to. And, like Zarr’s other novels, the style of writing is simple but often profound, which makes for an emotional read.

However, “The Lucy Variations” is not Zarr’s strongest work. There is something missing from Lucy’s characterization that takes her from being a character with whom one can sympathize with to a character that you love. Lucy is unreliable and often alienates friends and family members because of her lack of conviction. Additionally, her romantic feelings toward older men are a distraction that never seems to come to any conclusion. While Lucy’s journey toward understanding herself and finding peace in her talent is interesting, it does not cross over into compelling.

“The Lucy Variations” contains references to Lucy’s feelings toward her teacher and piano instructor and there is mild occasional swearing, but there is no explicit content.

If you go ...

What: "The Lucy Variations" launch party and Sara Zarr book signing

When: Tuesday, May 7, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, www.sarazarr.com

Emily Ellsworth is a blogger at Emily's Reading Room at emily, a blog dedicated to promoting a love of young adult fiction and includes book reviews, author interviews and more about the latest in young adult fiction.

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