The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr | Book Review




book synopsis Lucy, before the age of 14, was already well on her way to becoming a famous concert pianist and was already widely followed. Until one day when Lucy decides to quit — an act that her family still can’t even get over after some time has passed and Lucy is now 16. She struggles with their resentment and watch her family put all the pressure on her younger brother’s career but also adjusting to life as being a normal teenager — going to school, having normal relationships etc. There’s also the fact she still loves music but she needs to work out how she can play for herself without being in that world and her brother’s new piano teacher, Will, may be just the one to help her figure it out.

good books to readThis pains me to write because I had such a great experience with Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts but The Lucy Variations just never took off for me. It’s not that I disliked it. I just didn’t love it or really feel much for it at all. There were moments that captivated me with this book but that’s about all they were — moments. I will admit that this had been my gym read and I forgot about it for a few months when I stopped going to the gym and started another workout routine so some of my feelings may be because I took off some time from it before I finished it.

The premise itself was really interesting to me — a former piano prodigy gives it all up and struggles with a life that involves being a normal teen and the family who resents her for quitting. There were a lot of interesting dynamics in this one like Lucy’s family building their life around this competitive piano playing, Lucy’s penchant for being into guys who are older and not appropriate crushes to have per se (aka teachers) and obviously Lucy trying to reconcile where her love for piano can fit into her life on her own terms now that she’s given up her career. There was also the scandal surrounding her LEAVING that world, her brother’s new piano teacher and friends who have to deal with her transitioning.  The THINGS were there to make this a great one for me!

On the surface it did make it a compelling read for me, I was generally fascinated (and appalled) by Lucy and her family. Seriously her family is the worst and Lucy isn’t too far behind them. I even was intrigued by this relationship that Lucy began to have with her brother’s teacher. It was kind of provocative and I wondered where Zarr was going to go with it as soon as there were some seeds planted and I appreciated the fact I felt uncomfortable while reading it. I thought it was handled well.  I also, despite not really feeling much for Lucy, was kind of interested in how she would reconcile her love for piano.

But the thing that just didn’t make this novel what it could have been for me was the characters. And it’s not even that most of them were dislikeable or awful but it’s that I didn’t feel like they were full of life which was a bummer for me considering how I know Sara Zarr can write really full characters. I felt nothing for any of them really. On the surface they were all pretty interesting characters but there was some disconnect in making me feel like I should care and that they were more than who we were told they were. I didn’t feel like I really got to know anyone besides Lucy despite it being 3rd person.

I think, despite this not being the best Sara Zarr for me, that there are still a lot of redeemable things about it especially the writing and the readability once you get really into it and I have no doubt there are plenty of readers who loved this and will love it. Something just went amiss for me personally.

book reviewsI hate that I didn’t love this. The THINGS were there to make this a great one and there were super compelling elements but it just hovered around the “that was alright but I don’t feel much about it” mark as I finished. The writing was high quality though just wished I didn’t feel such a disconnect with the characters. I knew them because of what I was told of them but I didn’t FEEL them. Maybe it was the 3rd person narrative which only really followed Lucy? I don’t typically have a problem with 3rd person so who knows!

short book reviewSara Zarr's The Lucy Variations review

books you may also likeVirtuosity by Jessica Martinez , Bunheads by Sophie Flack,

for-fans-of-bookstories about talented YA’s, family dynamic issues explored, realistic YA fiction, music especially classical, really well written YA realistic fiction

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Did you enjoy it more or less than I did? What did you think of the whole Will thing? Which Zarr novel should I tackle next?
The Perpetual Page-Turner


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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. A friend of mine (my co-blogger) read this one a few months back and wouldn’t stop ranting about it. Not being able to connect with characters is just really sad. That usually causes me to not finish or give a low rating to the book. But since you said that Sara Zarr’s writing is great, I might have to try out some of her other books. 🙂

  2. I haven’t read this one because the only Zarr novel I *have* read was Sweethearts and it wasn’t a ~me book at all. But it is always so disappointing when an author you love has a new book that doesn’t feel like it lives up to what you know they can do!

  3. I’ve actually never read a Sara Zarr novel because they never seem like my kind of books, though I know some people who really like her. This definitely sounds like a book I could skip, but I am interested in checking out Sweethearts. I’ve heard much better things about it.

  4. I think I would have the same feeling on this one

  5. Aww, I’m sad you didn’t like this one more! I loved it, but I’m also a piano player and could really connect with the main character because of that. This is my second Sara Zarr book and I think they’ve both been good … I hope to try many more! I hope some of her other ones work for you. Have you read How to Save a Life? That one was super good!

    Great review, Jamie!

  6. I’m actually really looking forward to reading The Lucy Variations! It’ll be easy to relate to Lucy in terms of her piano playing, as that’s something I’ve actually personally struggled with too. I’m sorry to hear that this didn’t quite work for you though!

  7. I’ve just been notified by the library that this book is waiting for me. I love Zarr to the point where I’m willing to try anything she writes. I’m a pianist as well so I’m not sure if that connection will add to the book or push me away. I read “Once Was Lost” then “Story of a Girl” and then “Sweethearts” and I think I felt the way about “Sweethearts” that you do about “Lucy Variations.” For me it didn’t live up to her past efforts; it’s a frustrating feeling.

  8. As a musician I’m always skeptical of books that are centered around a musician (or movie/tv/manga) because I can’t think of a single one (at least in classical music, which is my genre) that gets the important things RIGHT. That being said…I’ve been eyeing this. I’m torn because – yay classical musician, but also…I already know I’m going to be super judgemental about everything to do with the music aspect. And also I’ve seen a lot of reviews that are similar to this about the characters, so it’s not encouraging haha

  9. I just finished this a couple days ago and basically felt the exact same way. It just wasn’t enough for me. Some parts were interesting, but a lot of it was slow and boring for me. It’s like I knew it was a good book but just not for me, sadly.

  10. Sometimes I think that reading a “meh” book is more frustrating than reading a terrible one because it was so close to being good! This reminds me a bit of the novel Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay, although that’s not YA.

  11. I haven’t read this book… and when I just read the synopsis it seemed like a great and compelling read. I used to play the piano myself, and quit a few years ago (I was decent, not great or something), and the premises seem really interesting.

    Your review makes me a bit hesitant though. I feel sad that it seemed disconnected to you, because that means that it probably was, I’ve learned by experience that your reviews are very trustworthy so this one will go to the bottom of my TBR pile. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll feel like reading it, we’ll see 🙂

    Thanks for the review Jamie!