Carmen Bianchi is 17, but she isn’t a typical teen. Since age four, she has been groomed and cosseted and promoted as a child prodigy violinist. Unlike most other kids, her childhood was filled with music lessons, concerts, tours, recordings, and even a Grammy. Now, the most prestigious competition in classical music – the Guarneri – is coming up, and Carmen desperately wants to win. She even starts stalking her most likely rival, her 17-year-old British equivalent, Jeremy King. Jeremy, currently in Carmen’s hometown of Chicago to play at the finals before the Guarneri, turns out to be smug and flippant and – to Carmen’s embarrassment – even catches her “spying” on him. As much as he infuriates her and makes her want to wilt away from humiliation, he is also very cute, disarmingly vulnerable when he’s not preening over his talent, and utterly fantastic on the violin.
This has all the makings of a predictable romance, but that’s actually only a small part of a more interesting story. As readers discover in the prologue of this novel, Carmen’s life is not as halcyon as it seems. Carmen is addicted to the anti-anxiety drugs foisted upon her by her helicopter mom, Diana, who is also her manager. Diana’s own dreams of musical success were cut short by the development of polyps on her vocal chords, and she does not intend to lose out on this second chance to reach the pinnacle of success, albeit vicariously through her daughter. Her efforts to control her daughter’s life get more hysterical as the time shortens until the Guarneri Competition. The author adds some sympathetic notes to Diana’s song, but I found it hard to like her at all. Fortunately for Carmen, she also has a wonderful parent in the form of her stepdad, Clark. The only puzzle was what Clark saw in Diana.
As the big day approaches, there are several disasters just waiting to happen. Is Jeremy genuinely interested in the naïve and inexperienced Carmen, or is he just trying to sabotage her concentration and take up her practice time? Does Carmen’s illegitimate method to control her anxiety with drugs compromise her playing as well as give her an unfair advantage? Will the addiction destroy her in the long run? Just how far will her mother go to make sure Carmen wins?
Discussion: There are quite a few good discussion issues raised in this arresting story of a girl who is pressed to succeed so strongly that she loses track of who she really is or what she really wants. Similarly, Jeremy’s plight brings up questions of morality and identity as well. How they manage to cope with the strains upon them will keep readers riveted to the story.
In addition, this book provides an interesting twist on the usual triangle: we have a girl, we have a boy, and we have: the violin!
Finally, hooray for an author with the courage to portray the stepparent as the more loving caregiver!
Evaluation: This is not just a story about the desire for “Fame” in the arts. It’s much deeper than that: the hurts endured by both Carmen and Jeremy will tug at your heartstrings, even as they tug on their violin strings to create worlds of pure beauty instead of their real worlds full of heartache and pain.
Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2011