The Lucy Variations

by Sara Zarr
ages: 12+
First sentence: “Try harder, Lucy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy is a has-been. Ever since she walked off the stage at a piano competition in Prague, she hasn’t touched the keys. Her grandfather — who holds the money, therefore the power — told her if she walked off that was it. Finis.

Lucy has mostly accepted it, until her younger brother Gus’s teacher died and — because Gus has a high-profile charity benefit concert coming up — their grandfather and mother hire a last-minute replacement: Will. He’s young(ish), talented, and — possibly most importantly for Lucy — interested in helping her rekindle a love of playing. Not for competition, not for an audience. For herself.

I think the thing that spoke to me most about this book was the idea of how music speaks to a person. As a pianist (though not a brilliant pianist), I know about finding peace, finding beauty, finding a sort of… love, in the act of playing, and I think Zarr captured that perfectly. That moment when Lucy realizes that playing the piano is part of who she is: perfection.

It’s not a perfect, easy ride for Lucy, and I appreciated that Zarr didn’t make it easy for her. She’s struggles with readjusting to school. Her best friend’s parents are going through a divorce, and there is drama there. Lucy develops a crush on Will, which Zarr uses most effectively. I was gratified that while Zarr brushed up against the line (Will’s happily married), she never crossed over to affair territory. That would have been creepy, and I spent a good while hoping she wouldn’t. Thankfully, she told the story — expertly, simply, beautifully — without needing to go there.

It’s a moving story about a girl trying to find her path in a family, in a world where she thought she’d lost a part of herself. One which touched me.

Bonus: there’s a playlist of songs Lucy loves at the end. Which made a nearly-perfect book that much better.