A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
Themes & Topics
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