Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘The Lucy Variations

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is a novel about friendship and first loves. Of course, that statement describes just about all if the young adult adults out there. 🙂 It’s also about random room assignments. Ah, now therein lies a notable difference. Because Zarr and Altebrando have effectively portrayed the pre-college experience, Roomies is more than your typical reading fare.

Roomies is the first novel which Zarr has co-authored, a venture which I view as a success. Half the chapters are about Elizabeth, an only child of a divorced couple, who can’t wait to escape her New Jersey life and to restart it in college in California. The alternating other half of the chapters are about Lauren, the oldest of a family of six of Cleaver-like parents, who can’t wait for the privacy of a single room assignment. When the two are matched as college roommates, conflict naturally ensures.

While one author could naturally have pulled off Roomies on her own, how cool is it that each author took on a different persona? One author wrote as Elizabeth, whose lifestyle is comfortable enough that she can brainstorm about what appliances to bring to fill the shared room, and whose dating life is progressed enough that her biggest concern is whether or not to break up with her current boyfriend. Another author wrote as Lauren, whose parents constantly apologize to Lauren for overloading her life with siblings and who has just started to negotiate that confusing world of “friends with benefits”? The end result are two unique and complicated individuals, who just might find themselves with enough in common to form a strong bond of friendship.

Sex is not a new territory for Zarr to explore. Sometimes in her novels it has come in form of abuse or has been at the very least not desired by the main character. Other times, sex has been just an act in passing, as if sex is a natural and expected part of being a teenager. In Roomies, sex becomes an issue. One of the reasons why Elizabeth considers breaking up with her current boyfriend is that he won’t lay off asking her to sleep with him. Even her closest friends tend to view her as a prude for turning down his requests. And yet, ironically, she ends up feeling different about sex with her next boyfriend. Then there’s Lauren who, once she buys into the whole roommate deal, feels pressured to be like Elizabeth and so also finds herself wondering about whether or not to lose her virginity. While I’m just as happy reading books which don’t include sex, I appreciate how each girl struggled to make her own individual decision about what was right for her, instead of there just being one straightforward reaction. This is after all how life normally works.

What makes Roomies the biggest success for me is how it both slowly and surely brought me back to my pre-college days. And to the subsequent times when I have made major moves. Elizabeth starts out not being able to wait to leave home. She so badly wants to escape that her choice of college is on the other side of the country. This isn’t much different from my decision to uproot myself from Newfoundland to attend a college in Alabama. (High school hadn’t really been kind to me.) Throughout the course of the summer, Elizabeth falls in love as well as renews her relationship with her mom. Suddenly, saying goodbye isn’t so easy. Similarly, leaving Newfoundland for work in the United States was probably among the most toughest choices I’ve ever made.

As for Lauren, she starts out wanting nothing more than a private room. Along the way, she finds herself wishing she could just stay at home. Forever. And that nothing would change. On my part, during my first few visits home, I kept thinking about how could I just find work in Newfoundland. Just stay in my hometown. And hold onto my childhood. Forever. Of course, the reality is that my town has continued to change. As would my life is I had stayed. Change is inevitable. Which is something that both Elizabeth and Lauren come to both realize and embrace.

Roomies was a fitting book for me to read at this time. You see, every summer my husband and I visit my home province again. I’ll see family, relatives, and friends. Already I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with landmarks that have special meaning to me. I’ve also already been told of yet more changes which have occurred in my town. Going home is always a bittersweet experience. Which is also how I’d describe my pre-college days. It’s also an emotion that Roomies poignantly captures.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

When The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr became available at our local library, it became my top pick to read during National Novel Writing Month. Since that time, I have purchased my own copy and it has become my turn-to book whenever I’m in the midst of an intense writing project.

Why? Foremost, when I’m struggling creatively, I want to read a book about which there is no question of whether I’ll like it. Sara Zarr has never disappointed. Just as important, the story is appropriate for a time when I desperately need inspiration. The Lucy Variations is about a sixteen-year-old who once had a promising future as a concert pianist, but walked away from it because of a betrayal and a death, and is now exploring why she even enjoyed piano in the first place. Having participated more than once in National Novel Writing Month, I know that the closer to the end of a writing project that I draw, the more I’ll begin to question my aspirations to become a published author. At times like these, I cling to advice Lucy receives: “…. And I think if you can remember what you care about, or at least remember how it felt to care about anything, well, it helps.”

Previous novels of Sara Zarr have contained a social issue at their core. Story of a Girl explores teen pregnancy, Sweethearts explores sexual abuse, Once Was Lost explores a kidnapping, and How To Save A Life explores adoption. Of course, anyone who has read anything by Sara Zarr knows that each of these descriptions is an understatement. Zarr’s books are all also about coming-of-age, issues of faith,  and complex relationships. In a way then, The Lucy Variations is a different type of book for Sara Zarr. Unless you count the stress of being gifted and living a privileged life, there aren’t any underlying social issues. In another way, The Lucy Variations is a typical Sara Zarr book due to its multiple layers, such as the many ways we face death and chose to live, crushes on teachers and mentors, and how joy is in the smallest moments.

The Lucy Variations differs in other ways too. It’s the first of Zarr’s book to be written in third person. This viewpoint allows Zarr to focus the story on Lucy while allowing readers enough distance to help them understand her behavior in ways Lucy herself cannot. It is also the first of Zarr’s books to feature a character who isn’t from an economically-disadvantaged family. Lucy is actually the exact opposite, but comes off just as real and sympathetic as Zarr’s previous characters. Finally, it’s the first of Zarr’s books to explore romance beyond the typical high school fare. Prodigy Lucy falls first for her English teacher, bringing him coffee cake as apologies for being late to his class, and later for her music mentor. The latter is perhaps more disturbing, because Will is clearly married. Even his wife at one point asks Lucy why she is calling her husband in the middle of the night. Lucy herself isn’t sure what she needs from Will, except perhaps attention from someone who might hold the answers to questions which have plagued her since walking away from her music career. You see, Will himself used to be a musical success, but now has a life which doesn’t revolve constantly around music even if it does involve it.

Zarr told Confirm Not Conform that The Lucy Variations has “mostly a metaphor for my own relationship with writing at the time I was working on that book”. In that context, one would expect Zarr to have written yet another novel about literary endeavors. After all, most authors seem to explore this part of their past at one point or another in their fiction. I appreciate that by bestowing Lucy with the gift of music, which required some research on Zarr’s part to make accurate, Zarr made The Lucy Variations instead about the universal theme of talent. As such, Lucy’s story lies less with what type of gift she has, and instead more with what it means to have a gift, to feel stifled by it, and then to rediscover it for fun. That’s a life lesson that most of us eventually have to wrestle with, which makes The Lucy Variations a prized keepsake.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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