I said I was going to read The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr, before it was due back at the library today. So I did. I got home from work yesterday, ran 2 miles, sat down with this book, and didn’t get up until I was done. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that everybody read books this way, but I knew that if I put this one down, I wouldn’t pick it back up.

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?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. 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.

Let me say first that I’m not sure I’m able to give an unbiased review of this book. It felt too close to me, a little too emotional for me, to be able to talk about it objectively. This book was frustratingly accurate. The reason I feel like I can’t/shouldn’t review this is because I was in that world. The music world. There’s a lot of my life that was completely different from Lucy’s, but I was amazed at how accurately Sara Zarr depicted the pressure of being a young musician. The times when you feel you have no agency, and this thing you loved is out of control and you no longer love it and you walk away…I did that. I was far from a musical prodigy, but I walked away from piano after I graduated high school. The pressure to make a career out of music soured the entire thing for me. The only way I felt that I could make myself heard, make everyone around me understand, was to walk out. I didn’t walk out on a recital, but I did walk out. No more lessons, practicing, nothing. You want to know what it’s like to win a few competitions, lose your first love, wonder what happened? This book will tell you exactly how it feels.

I’ll admit that there were parts that had me in tears. Tears because of the love and loss of music and the way it feels inside of you, and the way talent and expectations and selfishness are held in the same fist, the way family dynamics and sibling relationships can pressure and distort your perspective into something you don’t want it to be…they were all fabulously written exactly the way they are in real life.

But the rest of it was frustrating. Let me say this up front: Lucy was an unlikable heroine. I don’t want to spoil it, but her friend Reyna tells her something about her need for an audience, and how that plays into her interactions with those around her. Absolutely true. The one thing that redeems Lucy is the fact that she understands this near the end. She makes some frustrating decisions along the way, but she realizes some of the reasons and is able to realistically come to see some of the alternating perspectives. The characters are not one-sided, and Lucy eventually comes to see both sides. How she gets there is frustrating and occasionally stupid, but in an accurate teenager way. You know what I mean? I wanted to be mad at her, but I felt like I couldn’t because Sara Zarr wrote it all in such an understandable way. Frustrating, but accurate.

So. I loved it, cried over it, got mad at it…yep. Well written, but not for everyone.

Have you read THE LUCY VARIATIONS? What did you think?



  1. […] finished The Lucy Variations, and reviewed it last Friday. Contemporary isn’t half bad! But now I have three fantasy picks that came in at […]

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