78. Virtuosity, by Jessica Martinez
Jessica Martinez's second novel, The Space Between Us, was a Whitney finalist for the YA category last year, and another of the Segullah readers told me she liked Virtuosity even better than The Space Between Us, so I knew I wanted to check it out.
Martinez has a lovely, clean writing style, evident in both of her books. This book is perhaps a little more high concept than The Space Between Us (which deals primarily with the relationship between sisters). 17-year-old Carmen is only a few weeks away from winning the prestigious Guarini violin competition: the only real thing standing between her and victory is (maybe) Jeremy King, a cocky British boy who plays the violin like an angel.
After working her whole life toward this competition, Carmen is driven to win. She can't afford to let anyone distract her, least of all Jeremy. So imagine Carmen's surprise when, after an initially disastrous meeting with Jeremy, she discovers that he's nice. And funny. And cute. And he knows exactly what it's life to live in this musically-immersive world.
The more time she spends with Jeremy, the more she likes him. But Carmen knows that this idyllic world can't continue: she's struggling to wean herself from an addition to an anti-anxiety pill that helps her play better; her controlling mother is trying to convince her that Jeremy is only pursuing her to distract her from the competition; and her absentee father's absentee parents are only showing interest in her now that she's famous (and trying to purchase some of her respect with a 1.2 million dollar violin).
What I liked: I loved the relationship between Carmen and Jeremy--and I wished I could have seen more of it. I thought the glimpse into Carmen's regimented lifestyle and her passion was fascinated (even if it made me feel like a slacker). And I liked how flawed Carmen was. I also liked that the plot went in an unexpected direction, with a twist I honestly did not see coming.
Things I didn't like as well: as others have pointed out, Carmen does have a lot of things in her favor. So her mom is controlling and her dad is absent: she has a step-dad who adores her, she's incredibly talented, and she knows how to work hard. Her life isn't quite as desperate as Carmen seems to think it is. Also, Martinez seems to be one of those authors who likes to leave the endings a bit more open-ended. Some people like this; and admittedly it's more realistic. I am not one of those readers, and with this book--as with The Space Between Us--I found myself wanting a little more closure in the end.
Still, a lovely book.