Book Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lucy was one of the most promising  young concert pianists in the country–possibly in the world–before she walked away.  Now she’s sixteen, and her ten-year-old brother has the weight of her family’s expectations for greatness.  When Gus gets a new piano teacher whose methods are unorthodox and who takes an interest in helping Lucy rekindle her love for the piano, she finds that she faces a dilemma: can she ever learn to play just because she loves it and not because it’s expected of her?

I wish I could say that I loved this one, but something about it never clicked for me as a reader.  Zarr has proven time and again that she’s a strong writer, whose vivid characters come to life on the page.  In this one, all the pieces for a strong story are there: a flawed family with richly drawn characters, a sympathetic heroine, an interesting setting.  Yet somehow, Lucy’s third-person narration keeps the reader at too much of a distance.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, and readers who want a contemplative story with lots of full, rich characters aren’t likely to be disappointed.  Lucy is sympathetic but human, and she makes a lot of mistakes throughout the course of the novel.  Some readers will be more forgiving than others, but those who recognize the fact that she’s young are more likely to really “get” what Zarr is doing.

It’s slow on the pacing, so this isn’t a story for readers looking to whip through the pages.  Much more about the characters and their relationships, the book has a nice ending that doesn’t tidy things up too much.  It’s good, but I just felt unsatisfied by the story as a whole.

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr.  Little, Brown BFYR: 2013. Library copy.

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