Eight months ago teenage pianist Lucy Beck-Moreau walked off the stage in Prague, and she hasn't touched the keys since. But when her younger brother Gus's piano teacher dies suddenly and the family hires young, handsome Will to replace her, Lucy starts getting an itch to sit down at the piano bench again.
The Lucy Variations takes on the myriad ways in which a former child prodigy must now adapt to life as a semi-normal person. Lucy is relinquishing the spotlight to her brother, she is attending school and learning to be responsible to someone else's schedule, she is trying to support her friend's crisis instead of just her own, and, ultimately, she is trying to decide if she can be a pianist at all if she's not the kind of pianist her grandfather wanted her to be. And Lucy is pretty bad at all of these things.
Her friend Reyna describes her problems as her "needing an audience," and maybe that's part of it, but Lucy has also never spent much time with her peers; she has been living in an adult world, and her often inappropriate behavior reflects that. She allows - even craves - adults around her to use her talents to boost their confidence, because that's all she's ever done. Thus, we get her relationship with her English teacher, one of her few "friends" at high school, who lets her flirt with him and hang around after school because she makes him feel like a good teacher. Ditto with her brother's piano teacher Will, who takes her out to coffee, texts with her constantly, and raises eyebrows among those paying attention, namely Gus, Rayna, and Will's wife Aruna, because he wants to be the one that gets Lucy Beck-Moreau back in front of a piano.
I read this book in one sitting. All of the characters, even Grandpa Beck who is rough and hard to know, have depth, and I liked how Lucy comes to empathize with all the members of her family. I do wish that Lucy's fight with Rayna had been more resolved in the the end of the book; I think in the beginning of the book we're supposed to get the sense that there is this history of Lucy being supportive of Rayna through her parents' divorce, but overall I felt that Lucy mistreated her friend, and I would have liked her to have realized that more.
Lucy grew up in a competitive world where prizes are limited and everyone is compared to each other, and this plays out a lot in the book. So I like this note at the end, after the performance with Lucy and the old man who is still playing:
"I want to be like you," she replied.
He laughed. "No. Keep being like you."