Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez. Grades 7+ Simon Pulse, October 2011. 304 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.
Violin is everything to seventeen-year-old Carmen Bianchi and the most prestigious violin competition of her life is approaching. To win would guarantee professional success and the approval of her overbearing, former-opera-singer mother/manager. To lose is unthinkable. Enter Jeremy King, a British violin virtuoso and Carmen's biggest competition. When Carmen scopes out her rival, they end up meeting and Carmen discovers that maybe he's not the enemy. Or maybe he is. Maybe winning this competition is all Carmen's ever wanted. Or maybe it isn't.
Jessica Martinez has created a realistic and engrossing tale that captures the pressure put on young musicians. She's got Carmen down - a supremely talented violinist who has lost sight of what she's doing. She's no longer capable of enjoying her own music because she's so caught up in competition and her mother's struggle to reclaim her own broken dreams. She's hooked on anti-anxiety drugs to make it through her performances and high-pressure violin lessons.
The rest of Carmen's family is nicely fleshed out, from the crazy stage mother (seriously, Diane will cut a bitch) to the even-keeled step-dad who dutifully shows up at all of Carmen's performances to the absent, wealthy grandparents who just pop by to buy Carmen a million-dollar violin. I appreciated Ms. Martinez giving Carmen two very different parents. Diane's the character you love to hate. Clark is the step-dad you love to love because it's so obvious he cares about Carmen (and also, he puts up with his wife's crazy antics, so...).
Jeremy's still a little bit of a mystery to me. Maybe it's because I didn't completely buy Jeremy and Carmen falling in love over a handful of dates leading up to the competition, but I liked that I never stopped questioning whether Jeremy was completely on the level. Is he genuinely interested in her? Or is he plotting ways to destroy Carmen's chances in the competition?
Maybe I'm just noticing them more, but it seems like there's been a surge in performing arts titles for teens lately, a trend I'm very happy about! Hand this to teens who liked Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer or Good Enough by Paula Yoo (still one of my favorites!). This title will also pair nicely with another fall release, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, for its insider look at the performing arts.
Virtuosity will be on shelves October 18!