Rating: 2.5/5 stars
I picked this book up because I’ve been playing piano my whole life but I’ve yet to read a book about a pianist. The Lucy Variations is a coming-of-age story about Lucy, who was a world-renowned pianist at the ripe age of 16, but then something happened that caused her to quit playing completely, and eight months later, she still hasn’t touched the piano.
I like feeling a sense of connection to the protagonists in the books I read, and while I play piano, I was never in any competitions or upscale performances or anything of the like. I also don’t come from a performance family or have overbearing parents like Lucy does either. So I didn’t really feel like I could relate to her that much.
Lucy’s brother, Gus, also plays piano, and he takes up the mantle of responsibility when Lucy decides to quit. The book begins with Gus’s piano teacher falling over dead during one of his lessons (this isn’t a spoiler; it happens on page one). A new teacher, Will enters their lives, and the story follows Lucy as she unofficially becomes Will’s student as he teaches her about life and the piano, even though she still refuses to play. We also get flashback scenes to the day eight months ago when Lucy played the piano for the last time.
This book definitely has the themes of children growing up doing what’s expected of them to please their parents even though they don’t like it and then discovering they have their own dreams and ambitions and rebelling because of that. This is a common theme I’ve seen in many books, so there’s nothing new about it here. Lucy felt pressured to become an award-winning pianist, even though she didn’t really love to play.
You can kind of see where it’s going—Lucy goes through some trials and has to learn what makes her happy and learn to love piano for herself and not only because her parents tell her to. There’s also an attractive guy that helps her to see the truth and learn what she’d been missing. It’s a fine story, but again, it’s nothing new.
I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that Lucy had a thing for older men. Not just Will but one of her high school teachers also, and that was really weird and creepy to me.
I liked The Lucy Variations, but it wasn’t a standout book to me. It was enjoyable at the time but also forgettable if I’m being honest. I don’t tend to read young adult contemporary novels anymore because I struggle to relate to the protagonists now that I’m past that age. I thought this book might be different because of the piano aspect, but it still felt very much like the average YA contemporary. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not my taste anymore.
I would like to comment on the audiobook though: Sara Zarr narrates the book herself and she does a great job at it. The audiobook also has music in the background. During scenes when Lucy or someone else was playing the piano or listening to music, we could hear music, and it enhanced the listening experience. I’m not classically versed so I don’t know if the music being played corresponded to the classical movements the characters were talking about, but it was really cool nonetheless.