What I read:
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.
Most kids aren’t worried about their career. Most teens aren’t either. In general, we attribute certain concepts to the adult world: vocation, retirement, trajectory, etc. But Lucy has dealt with these concepts since she was in elementary school. Sara Zarr does an excellent job painting the unconventional life of a child-professional.
Essentially, Zarr employs excellent world-building in the real world.
I’ll admit that I was fascinated with this aspect of THE LUCY VARIATIONS because my WIP also involves professional teens, although in a very different industry. This was an excellent book for me to study how this type of research-based world-building can be done.
I think piano sounds pretty, and that’s about all I know about it. I have absolutely no connection to Lucy’s particular passion. And, in fact, I would venture to guess that most of Zarr’s readers are not themselves concert pianists. Yet Zarr establishes the world of incredibly talented mini-musicians in a way that is authentic, believable, and easily integrated into the story. From reading this book, I understand the sights and smells of a concert hall, the way the keys of a piano can feel under talented fingertips, and way music can sound to people who actually understand it.
I love that Lucy sites Beethovan’s 5th as her favorite piece of music because at once know what it is, but also that Lucy is able to appreciate it much more deeply than I would ever be able to with my uneducated ears.
And this world-building extends beyond it’s imagery. Zarr must develop the world’s rules, its hierarchy, its risks. When the stakes for your teen characters are something more universal—grades, romance, death—you can assume a bit more freely that they will be understood by your readership. But Lucy’s biggest threat is being banned from the piano. One of her biggest successes involves a junior music competition—something I’d never attended or even heard of before picking up this book. Zarr effectively taught me all about Lucy’s world, and yet I did not feel like I was learning about anything except Lucy. Despite our lack of common traits and history, I was able to go on Lucy’s emotional journey alongside her.
We often talk about world-building as a project for writers of fantasy and science fiction, but the truth is that it’s required in many contemporary novels as well. THE LUCY VARIATIONS is a great example of how this can be done well.
What other books out there employ great world-building in the real world?
The way I read has dramatically changed since I started taking the whole-writing-thing seriously. My writerly friends and I are always looking for recommendations so that we can read books that achieve the practical, emotional, or character note that we’re going for. So, I decided to start blogging about reading as a YA writer. And since we are completely out of bookshelf space in our tiny apartment, I decided to start giving away some of books too!
Photo credit: cooperpiano.com, goodreads.com