Closeup of hand of a white person presses down on piano keys

About the Book

Title: The Lucy Variations
Published: 2013

Cover Story: Fine
BFF Charm: Nay
Talky Talk: Sara Freaking Zarr
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Awful Family Award
Bonus Factors: Sassy Housekeeper, Charles Wallace
Relationship Status: My Best Friend’s Sister

Cover Story: Fine

I don’t love this cover, but it’s serviceable. I’m not a big fan of aggressively girly typefaces, and walking through the aisles of a bookstore, this probably wouldn’t catch my eye. On the other hand, it relates to the story and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to read it in public. It’ll do.

The Deal:

Lucy Beck-Moreau is not your average 16 year old. A child piano prodigy, she spent the first 15 years of her life pressured into touring and competing around the world at the behest of her overbearing family. After walking away from the piano eight months ago, Lucy is still figuring out how to be a functional teenager when a charming new piano teacher, Will, arrives on the scene. Will challenges Lucy to think twice about her decision for the first time since she quit.  The story chronicles Lucy’s continuing struggle with her parents, concern for her younger brother as the burden of family pressure is shifted onto his shoulders, and her inability to reconcile her love of music and her rejection of the world’s expectations for her as a performer.

BFF Charm: Nay

BFF Charm that says "denied"

I love Lucy, I really do. She is smart, talented and independent, which are all things I appreciate in fellow human beings. But she’s also SUPER messed up because of her crazy family and her complete absence of childhood. She doesn’t need my friendship; she needs years and years of very expensive therapy. Call me when you’re like 30, Luce.

I would, however, like to befriend Lucy’s BFFs Reyna and Carson, who deserve medals of valor for dealing with all of Lucy’s neuroses on a daily basis and still managing to be awesome.

Swoonworthy Scale: NO.

I rated this book a “NO” on the swoon scale, because that’s what I said over and over while I was reading. For reasons that will hopefully be addressed with her aforementioned therapist, Lucy has a regrettable tendency for becoming infatuated with men who are at least twice her age. This would not be good news at the best of times, but Zarr also manages to evoke high levels of empathy through her writing. I cannot remember the last time I had as much anxiety reading a book as I did any time Lucy came within 50 feet of a man in his 30s.

Talky Talk: Sara Freaking Zarr

Sara Zarr is one of those rare authors who gets her own Talky Talk category at FYA because her writing voice is so distinctive and profoundly awesome. If Zarr wrote the instruction manual for my blender, I would not only read it with great interest and enthusiasm, I would probably cry at the end. So it comes as no surprise that The Lucy Variations is as carefully, painfully and exquisitely written as her previous books. Her characters are so perfectly flawed that it all feels too real. As usual, I started out disliking almost everyone, and then about halfway through found myself to be completely, irrevocably, emotionally invested in all of their lives, good or bad. Reading Zarr’s writing is by no means always a pleasurable experience; you feel the highest highs and lowest lows that her characters experience. What it is, however, is beautiful.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Awful Family Award

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Speaking of highest highs and lowest lows, I could not handle Lucy’s family. Terrible parenting is no stranger to YA literature, but usually we are limited to one or two awful parents per family. Not Lucy! Lucy gets three for the price of one!

First, there are Lucy’s actual parents. Lucy’s father is mainly terrible by virtue of inaction; he lets his neurotic wife and manipulative father-in-law make most of the import decisions in his life and tends to hide in times of emotional turbulence. Lucy’s mom is also cowardly, but she takes that cowardice to new heights by also forcing her own failed dreams onto her offspring. Look, Lucy’s mom. You didn’t have the feet, but Lucy doesn’t have the heart. Back off. Oh! And one time she tried to blame Lucy for not being able to revive the piano teacher when she spontaneously died of a stroke.

But far and away the worst member of the Beck-Moreau household is Grandpa Beck, aka the worst grandfather in history. He is an emotionally abusive monster. We love our armchair diagnoses of literary characters here at FYA, so I’m going to go ahead and slap him with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and a sprinkling of generic sociopathic tendencies. I spent the entire book wanting to set fire to him.

Zarr, being Zarr, manages to humanize everyone just enough to make you doubt your blind hatred of these characters, but I’m not fooled.

Bonus Factor: Sassy Housekeeper

Rosey the robot housekeeper (The Jetsons)

The only family member who does even a remotely good job parenting is Martin, the Beck-Moreau’s longstanding housekeeper. He is the best. I wish he could just adopt Lucy and her brother and move them far, far away from their biological family.

Bonus Factor: Charles Wallace

Charles Wallace, the little brother in Wrinkle in Time, looking cute and inquisitive

Lucy’s 10-year-old brother, Gustav, is totally a Charles Wallace. He is tiny and brilliant and sweet. Like other Charles Wallaces, he’s stuck in this weird nether land of precocious children who are both adorably childlike and bizarrely adult. Obvi, I love him.

Relationship Status: My Best Friend’s Sister

I really liked this book, but not as much as I love some of its older sisters. Reading Zarr’s books hits you on such a deeply personal, emotional level, it’s hard to distinguish what you like better from one book to another. For instance, a lot of people (including most of FYA) swear by Sweethearts, but I’m more of a How to Save a Life girl myself. So it’s not that I think The Lucy Variations is a step down from Zarr’s other books, it’s just that it’s somebody else’s best friend.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. The Lucy Variations is available now.

Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.