January 10, 2016

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

*review contains some spoilers*

When I started this book - it had probably been sitting on my shelf for about eight months. There was a time when it would be unlikely for me to have this book on my shelf for 8 hours without me at least starting. Often I'd of finished it too. Although to be honest at that point in my life- it wouldn't have even got to be on my shelf before I read it. It just wouldn't get there. 

Okay, so, back to the original point I was trying to make here was that when I first started this book after it sitting on my bookshelf for eight months I thought I was reading a historical novel. Or not a historical novel exactly - but one that was set sometime between 1900 and 1950. I have no idea why I thought this - I just did. I'm not entirely sure when I realized that this book was set in the present day - but when I did it was quite a shock. And again - I have no idea why. There is nothing to suggest that it was anything other than a contemporary setting - and actually most of the books not set in the present day have a description which starts something along the lines of "Its 1912 and...". But for some unknown reason I had got it into my head that this was a historical book. 

There were clues all along "call 911" - when did it become a thing that American households would have a telephone. And when did calling 911 become a thing? (just fyi - Google informs me that the first 911 call was in 1968. I'm shocked. I would have thought it be earlier.) Did people call it CPR in the early twentieth century? Or did they have another name for it? But then BOOM all of a sudden I realize that there have been a million different things shouting "I'm set in the present day." I think it was when her brother said the words "Mom's going to be pissed.". Why I didn't realize at the mention of a cell phone but did at the bad language - I don't know. But I did. 

Although there were some points where I don't blame myself for getting the wrong impression. The scene at the start of the book where it describes the protagonist Lucy and her younger brother Gus laying the table being one of them. I mean - salad plates and two forks? It seems overly fancy to me. 

My friend Anna (go check out her fantastic blog about applying to uni) and her family gave me this book when I was ill (hence the long time before I read it) and I have to say that of all the gifts I got when I was ill it was a good one. If I'm choosing a book to give someone as a gift I will spend hours and change my mind many times about which would be the perfect book to get them (and never mind do they already have aforementioned book) (n.b. dear best friend who got a book for her birthday and Christmas - be grateful!!! :P ) 

But this was a really good choice. It was perfect for what I needed right then. A lot of people were suggesting I read classics (thinking I suppose that I would find comfort in 'old friends' and great literature) but that was just too much archaic language and required concentration for me at that point. This was not like that in that it was easy to read - there wasn't complicated plot twists or confusing moments or seven syllable words. 

But don't take that to say that it wasn't a good book. It was no War and Peace, but it was still a compelling read. There were no life shattering plot twists- but as you were reading you didn't feel like you knew exactly what was going to happen at every second. Well - you could kind of see where it was going but there was enough substance to the book that you WANTED to read it. You wanted to read it through, to see what Lucy made of herself and where she ended up at the end, enough ups and downs and highs and lows. There was enough to intrigue and entice you to want to keep reading. 

The book has an interesting and unusual background to the plot. It's a book about family and expectations and slightly obsessive behaviour and friendship. Of independence and finding what you love. But it's set to a background of the music world. I've read a lot of books about dancers, and a lot of books about people who do sports or who are artists. There are plenty of books about people who are into anime and 'geeky stuff'.

And yes - there are a lot of books were the characters are musical, where they play guitar/drums/sing (for example Angel Dares by Joss Stirling) but I don't think I have ever really before read a book where the classical music world features - or if it does only to a very minor extent.

My Dad is a classical music fanatic. And not just he owns a few Cd's of 'popular' artists and works, and compilations of 'the best classical'. He is one of those people for whom 'classical' music is music from the classical era (about 1750-1820) and whom has Cd's from all musical era's. And when we say he has Cd's, we mean like thousands. Literally thousands. So suffice to say - I've been exposed to classical music. I don't know a lot - but it is not an alien realm to me.

I know that for a lot of kids this is not the case. There are a lot of kids who have never and would never go anywhere near classical music, because it's boring. And they may sometimes be right. But firstly, you do not need to know anything about classical music and the piano to enjoy this book. It's not an exclusive book. Some things are mentioned, for example names of pieces, but it doesn't matter if you have never heard of it before or if you can play it backwards on the harpsicord in your sleep; the music world is the world in which this book is set and not a book about the history of the piano. It's not a book about choosing not to play the piano, but about choosing not to do something that you love, and as such I think the main themes and plot would be equally applicable to piano playing or gymnastics or football.

And also there are leagues of kids who take up the violin or the piano or the flute or the trumpet or some other instrument. Wether they 'think it's cool at the time' or because they know someone else who plays or because their parents make them. Weather they only ever learn to play three blind mice or do it for years. Wether they perform at recitals or join the school orchestra or sit exams. Wether they never practice or practice for six hours every day. A lot of children learn to play an orchestral instrument, and I like how music plays a part in this book as I feel it is underrepresented in the children, and especially young adult, literary word.

And now I feel like I've rambled on about that WAY TOO MUCH.

One of the things that played a big part in this book is the relationships Lucy has. With her deceased grandmother and how her death effects Lucy. With her grandfather who expects nothing less than perfection from her. With her parents - it's interesting how this isn't always black and white, and I like  how they change depending on circumstance, and there's evidence of changing over time - it makes them feel more real to me. Your not just given a black and white snapshot of one parent being the bad cop and the other being the pushover good cop. Her relationship with her brother reminds me a lot of my relationship with mine. Sometimes we hate each other. Sometimes we will talk to each other for an hour (this is rare) in some sort of serene state. But there is no big change, it is constantly changing from 'friends' to 'enemies' and feel like this is the same with Lucy and Gus.

I felt that the relationships that Lucy has with her friends were slightly underdeveloped- I just didn't feel like they were a big part of the book, when for any teenager friends are a big part of their life. If they have them or not. But with Lucy - her friends were very in the background. You know their names, and that Reyna's parents are going through a messy divorce and that her Dad's a orthodontist. But that's about it. I just don't feel that they are properly fleshed out characters. But I think a big part of this may be that Lucy just isn't that bothered about them. They're more just people who are conveniently there. When she falls out with Reyna it doesn't seem to phase her much. And the fact that she really does only have two friends should say a lot. I feel that maybe they aren't fully developed is a reflection of how Lucy views them and thinks about them - which is quite frankly not a lot.

The other relationships that she has are with older men. In a slightly creepy way. It's not just crushes on older celebrities or commenting on younger men in her community (teachers etc...) because that's kind of normal. It's that Lucy is ACTING on her crushes, and they're not just crushes, she actually seems to have romantic feelings and obsessions with these people (her english teacher and her brothers new piano teacher) as if she was their peer. When she is not. It never gets really far but it definitely goes further than I think it should be allowed to go. Her friend jokes about her having a thing for older men, but it's not really a joke when she calls them in the middle of the night and creeps around their bedroom.

For a lot of the book Lucy is 'at war' with her family about.... everything. And her piano playing is the wooly mammoth in the room. It did get to the point where this gets a bit annoying - because it gets to the point where I feel where Lucy is just getting a bit unreasonable. There is a strong suggestion she is seen as a 'spoiled brat' by many in the music community and also by her grandfather. I don't think this is necessarily the case. I don't feel that Lucy is spoiled necessarily, just very used to a very different lifestyle. She is often late to school, and I don't feel like it's because she is entitled to be late, but more she's not used to having to be up on time, or used to what time she gets up a problem. I think she has always been used to a certain style of life - she left school so she could follow her piano career being 'the important one', the main player. Everything was about her. And all of a sudden she needs to get used to being a normal, unspectacular, high school student. I don't feel like it's necessarily because she's jealous, or resents her new situation- more just doesn't quite know what she's doing.

So yes - there was a point where I did feel like Lucy was a bit annoying. I was frustrated with how she was acting. Why didn't she hang on to her friends more? Why couldn't she see she was hurting Gus?

But I think that's just because Lucy was such a real character. She's normal. She's human. And that means that she acts like a human. And sometimes she is a bit annoying.

I think that's my main thing about this book. It's real. Its not just believable. It feels real. Sometimes I don't like books that are two real, because they're just a bit too real. But here I like it. I like how Sara Zarr has created her characters. And I like how the events and directions of the plots seem to be dictated by the characters, instead of her having a bunch of charercters and a plot. I feel like it's a well thought out book; that the scenarios are well considered and convincing.

So what I've just spent over 2000 words saying is that I like this book, I recommend you read it. It's different, it's interesting, it's believable. Yes, there are several chapters where I was a bit annoyed with Lucy, but after that bit when I understood her a bit more, and she understands herself a bit more I was glad I read through it because after that it was so gratifying. It's a fascinating and enjoyable read.

And lastly there's a bit at the end about the bits at the end of the book. The first one is 'Lucy's Love List for Will'. It's a 'copy' of the list she prepared when she was asked to make a list of the pieces of music that she loved. I love how it was included - because although we knew quite a few of the pieces because they'd been mentioned over the course of the novel - but I was interested to see them all together- and a couple that I'd either missed being mentioned or forgotten about. I made them into a playlist and I really like it - especially on shuffle it's an interesting mix full of things that I'd never heard before but are really very good songs.

The second bit is a few pages of discussion questions. Now. I am instantly weary of any book containing discussion questions. It reminds me of the TERRIBLE reading scheme we had in junior school. So I'm just not a fan of discussion questions. They should have been left as an available resource on the internet or something. The least said about them the better.

But luckily the novel itself is good enough to make up for the discussion questions. 


  1. Okay, one helluva long review but those are the best ones. I mean, if it was short, it would be those "previews" at the back of a book.
    Seems like a good book, not the type I'd usually go for though.
    And yeah, not a fan of discussion questions but if the novel makes up for it, that's good.
    More book reviews would be great! And thanx for the review!

  2. Well- I do like to be thorough!!!! (or more I just have a habit of waffling! :P ) The discussion questions did nearly ruin it though!

    1. If I do get the book, I will not look at the discussion questions!