YA Tickles the Ivories: Seven Stories about Piano Prodigies.

I had so much fun putting together yesterday's list about Norse mythology—and, to those who have asked, I'm planning on reading Icefall and West of the Moon ASAP—that I'm doing another one today. This time, as you've likely gathered from the title, I'm focusing on young pianists.

I chose the topic largely because I recently—FINALLY—read the first book on the list. 

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

I've come to the conclusion that Sara Zarr is incapable of writing a flawed book. If you're a fan of contemporaries and she's NOT on your radar, WELL. I think said radar might need some recalibrating.

Lucy Beck-Moreau is a child of privilege, a piano prodigy who was on the fast track to fame and fortune, when, in a moment of grief and rage, she quit. It's been eight months since that day, and she hasn't played since. Now, all of the family's expectations—along with the resulting pressure—is on her younger brother's shoulders. Due to the unexpected death of his instructor, the family hires young Will R. Devi, and his influence sparks Lucy's reevaluation of her life choices, her relationship with music and with her family, and her future.

It's about music; about art; about beauty; about snobbery and elitism; about grief; about trust and manipulation and spite; about how a clash between two stubborn people can ultimately result in both sides losing; about economic class and using people to further your own ends and living THROUGH other people and about CHOOSING YOURSELF. All of the relationships are so complex—Lucy and her mother, her father, her grandfather, her brother, her best friend, her teacher, and, of course, Will—that I really don't think it would be possible for me to praise it highly enough. Lucy's various relationships with adult males are particularly interesting (and in two cases, HUGELY UNCOMFORTABLE, so much so that I moaned, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO DON'T GO THERE DON'T GO THERE more than once while reading, but I should have had trust, because GO THERE ZARR DID, and it was SO WELL DONE) and, yeah. SUCH A GOOD BOOK.


Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse

The Ultimate Dust Bowl Sobfest. I very clearly remember reading this one on my lunchbreak at the bookstore, and crying so much that the manager sent me away to go and take a SECOND LUNCH BREAK. Beautifully written.

And now for a few that I haven't read!

Fingers, by William Sleator

The plot of this one—child piano prodigy grows up and is no longer interesting to the public, so his mother decides that they will market him as a MUSICAL MEDIUM WHO IS CHANNELING A LONG-DEAD GYPSY COMPOSER, WHAAAAAAAT but then his older brother starts to suspect that his little brother is ACTUALLY BEING POSSESSED, DOUBLE WHAAAAAAAT—immediately makes me think of Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, what with Franz Schubert possessing Kit and all. And now I just want to read Lois Duncan all day long.

Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony

Actually, I know that I read this one, but I can't remember a thing about it beyond the format—it's a collage-style story told mostly in photos, IMs, drawings, and ephemera—and that it's about a pianist. I should probably revisit it, because the more I think about it, the more I remember, and I'm suddenly suspecting that it's one that's worth a re-read or two.

The Gathering Dark, by Christine Johnson

A Maine girl wants nothing more than to play her piano, escape her hometown, and go to Julliard. Then, a MYSTERIOUS NEW TATTOOED BOY arrives in town, and paranormal complications ensue. Despite the Maine connection, I'm inclined to skip this one—I'm a little bit MYSTERIOUS NEW BOYed out.

Broken Chords, by Barbara Gilbert
Four Seasons, by Jane Breskin Zalben

Two books about young prodigies reevaluating their respective futures: one has a wrist injury that allows her to take a few weeks off and explore ballet (really?), and the other weighs her life of never-ending practice, pressure, performance against first love, friendship, and free time.

There are plenty of others where the prodigies are secondary characters—Geoff Herbach's Stupid Fast, for one—but these are the major ones ABOUT pianists that I came up with. Did I miss anything super?