I really liked Sara Zarr’s YA novels Once Was Lost and How to Save a Life. I thought her Sweethearts was O.K. but nothing to write home about. I haven’t read Story of a Girl, a National Book Award finalist in 2007, because I’m wary of the subject matter, a girl who gets a bad reputation and can’t live it down. This latest one from Ms. Zarr (2013), The Lucy Variations, was a good read, but a little odd in some ways.
The characters and their actions and reactions reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle’s young adult fiction. Her young protagonists are usually oddly grown-up and mature and at the same time naive, getting themselves into situations that went too deep, too soon. It’s an atmosphere and characterization that I can identify with:
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 newpiano 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?
Not that I was ever a promising concert pianist or any other kind of prodigy, but I was a reader and somewhat mature for my age—in some ways. I knew about “stuff” from books just as Lucy knows about the adult world from being immersed in world of concert piano competitions from an early age. But that narrow, once-removed experience of adulthood doesn’t really prepare one for acting as an adult at age sixteen. Even if people expect maturity from an accomplished concert pianist.
So The Lucy Variations is about growing up when certain people expect you to be all grown up already.
And now that I’ve written all I have to say about this novel, I refer you to Liz Burns’ review at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy in which she says what I think about this book.