Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodread: Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen's whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better?
Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can't end well, but she just can't stay away. Nobody else understands her--and riles her up--like he does. Still, she can't trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what's expected.
Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall....
My take: I'm a Jane Eyre fan. Okay, Jane Eyre is my favorite Chick Lit. Of all time. Gush all you want about Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I liked it, too, but mostly for the snark, spunk, and romance. But Jane Eyre features Jane, a rather unremarkable protagonist with little voice or choice in her life who finds just a little bit of happiness only to have it yanked away from her. The easy way would be to continue in the house. Instead, she found the strength within herself to do the right thing even though it was painful and at her own peril.
In case you haven't read it, the ending warmed me up. For years. I still pull it out every few years just to live it all over again. It's happy.
In Virtuosity we meet Carmen, the gifted yet sheltered child prodigy who is home schooled and semi-charmed. It seems that she'd not be a protagonist that one could relate. But the truth is that Carmen is very normal but controlled. Her mother, Diana, is a calculating and well versed manager. Her best friend is her home school teacher. Her social life consists of old men in orchestras. Her one joy she has chosen is running with her stepdad for fun. She loves the music and the joy of playing the music, but has now been conditioned to carry the expectations of her mother, her violin teacher, her grandparents, the conductor, and the audience. The burden is sapping her.
Yes, there is a love interest, Jeremy, who happens to be her best competition but that is only part of the story. The real story is how Carmen finds who she is and what she stands for. It's the way she individuates herself from her mother and everybody else vested in her musical career. It's the time when Carmen realizes she has a choice.
Diana is the perfect stage mom. She manages every part of Carmen's life. On the other hand, there are some surprising and non-cliche'ed relationships. Carmen and her stepdad share a respectful and close relationship. Jeremy is not the "bad boy" boyfriend so prevalent in YA lit. His personality is not fully explored but he and Carmen express some fun dialogue.
Also prevalent in YA lit. is the idea that in order to separate from an overbearing parent, the child throws everything out the window for a full blown rebellion. Carmen's rebellion is real but clean. There is no sex, inappropriate dialogue or language, or violence. It's clean enough to recommend to the school library and I can keep it on my bookcase without fear of recrimination. My kids have much higher standards than I do. I'm so glad.
In case you haven't caught the relationship to Jane Eyre, let me just say that Jane saves herself. Nobody swoops in to rescue her, although a couple of men try to do so. In the end, Jane makes her own difficult decisions, defines herself by those decisions and is much better because of it. She is the empowered female protagonist. Without revealing the conflicts (believe me, there are some big ones), Carmen is a strong protagonist who will be deciding whether she will allow the decisions made for her define her an easy life or if she will live more peacefully (although not immediately) by saving herself.
I guess I've provided a spoiler by making the comparison. Sorry.
It's a quick read and highly enjoyable.