The Lucy Variations

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Lucy Variations Book Poster Image
Rich teen piano prodigy manages pressure, older crushes.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.


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.


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.


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

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What 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
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 14 years old Written byKatherington April 1, 2015

Good Story, but problems are extremely first world

I enjoyed the story and couldn't put the book down. I understand the conflict of life moving on before your ready for it. However, I think cultural elitism... Continue reading

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?

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love teen stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate