The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

I pretty much adore Sara Zarr. If you’re looking for a contemporary novel with realistic characters and authentic emotions that can portray the beauty of real life without being overly dark, Sara’s your girl.

I picked up The Lucy Variations without really knowing anything about the story. The cover, as you can see, implies there’s something about a piano. That’s basically all I knew. I had no idea how closely I would relate to this story.

Lucy is about a teenager who has spent her formative years as a competitive concert pianist. Then one day, she just quits. Her little brother, Gus, continues to perform and compete, and the high-pressure family dynamic hasn’t changed much…just now, Gus has to bear most of the intensity. Lucy’s grandfather hasn’t really spoken to her since she quit performing, though, and relations with her mother are strained. Worse, Lucy’s not sure what she really wants from life now, or where she fits in. Enter: Will, Gus’ new piano coach….

As a pianist, myself, reading this was strange. Growing up, I had always wanted to play, and even begged for lessons. My parents made me prove I was interested enough for them to spend the money by teaching myself music theory for a whole year. Once I started lessons, I adored it. I was a gifted pianist, and I performed and competed with flair. I heard constantly that piano was where my talent lay. And yet, after several years, I started to become frustrated with the whole experience. I wanted more freedom of expression with the music than I was allowed. I wanted to be able to ignore dynamics and time signatures and interpret the music as I felt it. Such license simply was not permitted by my (admittedly gifted) teacher, and I began to feel repressed. Finally, I “pulled a Lucy” of my own. I quit, and for quite a long time, I never played. It wasn’t until college that I began to find my way back to an instrument, again–a tinny, chipped, out-of-tune piano in the tiny, locked basement room of my dorm hall. I still don’t perform, except to accompany people on occasion.

Consequently, reading about Lucy’s tentative, vulnerable steps back toward a piano bench were extraordinarily emotional for me. Lucy is real. I don’t know whether Sara Zarr is a Lucy or knows a Lucy or is just that good, but reading her story was simply astonishing–no less for the characters, the familial relationships, and the awkward, dynamic, and sometimes frightening connection between Lucy and Will. That, too, was a bit too relatable for me, and it was amazing to read. The final chapters, and Lucy’s ability to deal with and work through conflict on her own terms, were truly beautiful. Zarr writes emotions so purely, and The Lucy Variations is deeply engrossing.

Two milder profanities. Otherwise clean. 4.5 stars, and I’m pretty sure I need to track down all the other Sara Zarr I haven’t read yet. If you haven’t read her yet, read this one!

4.5 Stars

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