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Friday, August 3, 2012

Virtuosity, written by Jessica Martinez. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"That final week was a marathon of second-guessing and it all came back to that impossible-to-answer question: What was I most likely to screw up? What would I look back and wish I had spent just a few more minutes practicing? I didn't know: fingered octaves? Just to be safe I had to drill them to death. Or what if I overshot that brutal shift at the end of the cadenza?"

We know where she is when we begin the book...on a balcony, holding her million dollar violin over the grate. Will she drop it? How did she get there?
Those are questions that we ask ourselves before we begin reading this accomplished debut novel by Jennifer Martinez. To me it is obvious that Ms Martinez has done her research, or is writing from a very personal perspective. She captures the two main characters so beautifully.

It rings with authenticity, and understanding. That must be due to the fact that Jessica Martinez loves music and knows musicians. She also knows how relationships work, or so it seems in this well written story about Carmen Bianchi and Jeremy King and a uniquely diverse cast of characters.

Carmen and Jeremy are classical violinists, both vying for top prize in the Guarneri, a classical competition. Nothing, at the moment, is more important than spending every waking moment of the day in preparation. They are each other's staunchest rival.

So, when Carmen meets Jeremy and is dazzled by him, she has difficulty maintaining a disinterested demeanor. She wants to win! But, he is quite winning. Carmen's focus on the competition has been very intense, leading to her to take anti-anxiety medication before performances. She does not like their effect, or the need for them. She is also feeling smothered by her mother's overbearing 'stage mother' demands. She begins to question her own motivation for competing.

Jeremy has his own very personal reasons for wanting the top prize. As a reader I wondered if his admiration for Carmen and her talent were all that admirable. His agenda seemed suspect. There are definitely strong feelings between the two, and that complicates the quest for success for both musicians.

Readers will find much to love about this book: the external and internal pressure to succeed at something you love, the role that adults can play in the decisions that their children make, teenage rebellion, the cut-throat world of international competition in the arts, drug use to improve performance, and the will to plot your own path. Carmen and Jeremy act as pawns to some extent, and we are interested in how their relationship will change once the competition has ended.

I tore through this book, always alert to the growth and changes in the characters as the story developed. There is so much to like about it. I will leave you to answer the question that begs to be asked: what choice would you make? I hope that you feel as I do when I say that I would love to meet both Carmen and Jeremy at some future place in time. Are you listening, Ms. Martinez?

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