Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Virtuosity

Jessica Martinez
Simon Pulse
Carmen is a young violin virtuoso who already has a Grammy under her belt and a scholarship to Juliard, but for her that's not enough. Her career in music hinges on winning the prestigious Guarneri competition, which comes with a worldwide, year-long tour. She must win not only for herself, but also for her mother whose own career as an opera singer was cut short and has poured her love for music into her daughter. When Carmen begins to fall for her competition, Jeremy King, she finds that she also has to confront her reliance on the anti-anxiety pills she takes before every performance - and most of her lessons. Though her mother says that taking the pills is ethical and her doctor assures her you can't become addicted, Carmen has her doubts.

This book is brilliant. I know that. From the characters and plot to the sheer writing ability, there's genius at work here. And yet in spite of that something in this book didn't sit right with me. I didn't love it the way so many others have seemed to. Carmen is a sharp, smart, and sheltered teen who nevertheless seemed to me much older than her 17 years. She's naive, but has a sort of confidence that comes from not only being one of the best (if not the best), but also from being so incredibly comfortable in her world. Though the book's synopsis makes a point of Carmen's addiction to her anti-anxiety drugs, the fact is that very early on in the book she gives up the pills, knowing that there's something wrong in her taking them. As someone who admittedly knows absolutely nothing about the classical/competitive music worlds and is as tone-deaf as they come, the subtle comparisons between anti-anxiety medication and athletes taking steroids made me uneasy; it doesn't seem comparable to me, but again, I could be very wrong on this. Another thing that confused me was the fact that Carmen called her mother by her first name. It fit well with the formal and sometimes stiff feeling of their relationship, but I wish the reasons behind it had been explained.

Carmen's mother was a very shades-of-grey character; in the beginning she seemed strict and a bit overbearing, but not horrible. However, she got worse as the book went on and by the end I absolutely hated her. Jeremy King was a similarly confusing character, at least in some ways. He's introduced as Carmen's only "real" competition in the Guarneri and this puts their relationship in a weird spot: is he using her, or does he genuinely like her? The scenes between Carmen and Jeremy - especially their dialogue - was always brilliant. These two had moments that had me laughing out loud. Despite everything going on around them and the fact that their relationship seemed very sudden, I wanted these two to end up together and happy.

I can't quite pinpoint why I didn't love this book like I should have, but I suspect it might be a combination of the subject matter (competition-music stories are a hard sell with me) and Carmen's character. Though she was likeable and sympathetic, I didn't ever really feel her love for the music that would have carried me through the book. I felt her  conflicting feelings when it came to her mother, the pills, and Jeremy. I knew that she loved her stepfather and that the competition was important to her, however her mother's overbearing need for her to be the best overshadowed whatever feelings Carmen may have had about the situation. I never felt like she really loved what she was doing and partly because of this I kept wondering why, when she had so much, the Guarneri was so important. Because Carmen isn't an unknown talent; she has multiple CDs out, a scholarship to Juliard, a Grammy win, and plenty of financial support. I suspect that my feelings on this could possibly be because I've never played an instrument myself (or at least, never played one well. or passably.) and that others, who have more musical experience, will be able to see Carmen's love for the music where I couldn't.

This book is brilliant and well-written, especially in terms of atmosphere, and has a captivating story. The fact that I didn't love it doesn't mean you won't.

Virtuosity hits shelves October 18th.

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