The Lucy Variations

Common Sense Media says

Rich teen piano prodigy manages pressure, older crushes.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will learn about classical music, particularly the composers and pieces that Lucy and her brother Gus prepare to play, including works by Chopin, Beethoven, Glass, and more. Teens will see the amount of dedication and passion it takes -- hours and hours a day -- to become exceptional at something.

Positive messages

The Beck-Moreau family believes in the idea that privilege shouldn't be wasted in idleness. Despite their wealth, the patriarch demands that his daughter and grandchildren live up to his expectations of greatness, particularly in the art of classical piano. Persistence, practice, excellence, achievement -- they're all held up as attainable with the right attitude (but also the right means). Also references to living a life of luxury -- expensive clothes, custom-made furniture, bespoke suits, insured instruments, auction items that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Positive role models

Lucy and Gus work incredibly hard, giving up a lot of adolescent creature comforts, to be world-class musicians. Lucy is brilliant but misguidedly has strong attachments to older men -- her English teacher and her brother's music tutor. She's also incredibly rich and entitled. Will reminds Lucy and Gus about the joy of playing piano instead of just the work and the competition (but he also ultimately succumbs to having inappropriate feelings for her). Lucy's best friend tries to ground her and remind her of the dangers of crushing on older men. Lucy's father is generous and kind, if a bit of a pushover. Lucy's grandfather and mother are unlikable at first but ultimately declare that they do love and are proud of her.

Violence

No violence, but the book opens with the unexpected death of a piano teacher (who suffers a heart attack), and Lucy mourns the death of her beloved grandmother.

Sex

Lucy has a crush on two older men: her English teacher and, later, an even more complicated relationship with Will, her brother's married piano tutor. Both crushes are inappropriate, and with Will she even shares an intense hug as well as a cheek kiss hello and other chaste but loaded touches on the arms, shoulders, and hands. Will compliments Lucy often and tells her that she's elegant, brilliant, beautiful -- so beautiful it hurts him. Will and his wife kiss or hold hands on a couple of occasions. Lucy flirts with a sailor and kisses him on the cheek while wearing a sexy red dress. She jokingly offers to kiss her best male friend, but he declines, and it's clear he harbors feelings for her.

Language

Occasional use of words like "bulls--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "jerk," and "crap."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink at dinner, and, at a party, of couple of people drink heavily, but the girls stick to nonalcoholic options.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Lucy Variations is a realistic novel by award-winning author Sara Zarr that includes a couple of crushes on older men by a teenage girl. In a departure from Zarr's previous books, which deal with a host of difficult adolescent issues, Lucy focuses on a piano prodigy who's born into a fabulously wealthy San Francisco family. Although Lucy deals with universal themes like loss, grief, and family expectations, most kids won't be able to relate to the main character's life of luxury and cultural elitism. Specific brands aren't mentioned or glamorized, but everything the family owns is expensive, custom-made, or antique. There's no adolescent romance in the book, but Lucy has overwhelming crushes on two different older men, and in one case it's somewhat reciprocated, although physically nothing more than intense hugs, a cheek kiss, and other brief shoulder and hand touches take place. This is a story about family dynamics, inspiring teachers, and extraordinary talents.

User reviews

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Lucy Beck-Moreau was once the classical music world's hottest teen piano prodigy, but a fateful decision during a competition alienated her not only from the concert pianist circuit, but also from her patriarchal grandfather, who runs her wealthy San Francisco family with uncompromising expectations of greatness. After her younger brother Gus' private piano teacher dies unexpectedly, the family hires a hip, twentysomething mentor named Will, who shows an interest in getting Lucy to return to the piano. As Will and Lucy's friendship develops into an intense mentor/mentee relationship, Lucy wonders whether she can make a comeback to the instrument she once loved. 

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Sara Zarr is an excellent storyteller when it comes to adolescent girl protagonists going through gut-wrenching, life-changing challenges. She beautifully portrays how characters deal with complex issues like grief and teen pregnancy (How to Save a Life), the repercussions of early sexuality (Story of a Girl), and a history of abuse and bullying (Sweethearts). THE LUCY VARIATIONS is a departure for Zarr, because Lucy's family and personal challenges are definitely what you'd call "first-world problems." She's a rich piano prodigy who doesn't really know how to be a regular privileged teenager. Lucy isn't an underdog -- which is fine -- but she's also not particularly likable.

Lucy's entitled attitude, her selfish treatment of her patient best friends Reyna and Carson, and her inappropriately strong romantic feelings for older authority figures make her a difficult protagonist to feel emotionally connected to, even though Zarr's prose is as crisp and well written as always. The secondary characters are interesting, and the Beck-Moreaus are a fascinating family (particularly her kind French father, who seems to do everything his wife and father-in-law command), but ultimately there's not as much of a poignant pay-off to Lucy the book or the character as there is to Zarr's other unforgettable novels.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Lucy learns to come to terms with her incredible talent for piano, even though it's the result of family pressure to be the best. Teens: How do you deal with pressure from your family?

  • Some readers have felt uncomfortable with the crush Lucy has on her teacher and then her complicated relationship with Will. Do you think Will and Lucy's relationship is inappropriate? What does Lucy's preference for "older men" reveal about her personality and maturity level?

  • This is the rare contemporary YA novel that doesn't feature a love story. Were you surprised there wasn't more romance? Do all teen novels need to include a romantic plotline?

Book details

Author:Sara Zarr
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Music and sing-along
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:May 7, 2013
Number of pages:320
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The Lucy Variations was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Top Kids' Movies: An Essential Guide for Families