Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publishing Date: October 27 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Page count: 292
Carmen Bianchi, world-famous violins child prodigy, is competing for a prestigious prize: a four year performing contract, oodles of cash, and the loan of a violin worth as much as a small country. Probably. It’s worth a ridiculous amount. Carmen is your standard goody-two-shoes child star with a pushy showbiz mother, and although there are nineteen other contestants for this prize, everyone in the classical world knows it’s only really down to Carmen and a boy prodigy from England called Jeremy King. Because, you know, Asian people aren’t any good at the violin. Makes you wonder why they even both to host eighteen other contestants.
I know classical music, and I loved all the references to the different symphonies and operas and movements, and I loved the way Martinez made me feel the music the way Carmen did. But all through the book I kept thinking, ‘child prodigy, recording contract, toured with symphonies around the world, everything thinks she’s going to win this competition and her biggest problem is an overbearing mother and a need for anti-anxiety pills?’ I mean, come on. Even the child prodigies in the real world don’t always win competitions. Charlotte Church was cast as Ado Annie in Carousel. Jackie Evancho came second in America’s Got Talent. Carmen’s won a Grammy for best classical album: I wanted to know more about the recording and other performances.
At least the book gave an honest portrayal of a violin player: Carmen practiced several hours a day. I like to pretend she won her Grammy in 2009 instead of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. I don’t like the idea of Carmen, a teen soloist of the violin no less, beating out the entirety of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra IandI Chorus, and the San Fransisco Symphony.
Carmen starts to rebel against her rigid schedule, short-leash mother, and the expectations of the competition and the entire classical music world (which is not looked upon favourably. It seems that most people [especially the wealthy] just pretend to like classical music so they can dress up and attend operas looking all fancy). She falls gently in love with her competition (which is NOT a spoiler, it’s right there in the blurb! AND the front cover!) and begins to make her own choices for herself, even though there are people around her who are desperate for her to follow pre-determined paths.
It’s the ending that really bumped this book to 4 stars for me. Not even the ending. The very last page. The final sentence. It made me realise that the whole book has not been about Carmen’s rebellion, but Carmen’s choice. How a young adult, albeit a world-famous young adult, deals with her world when she feels she has no choice, as many young people, successful and hard working but not knowing for whom it was for, must feel. This isn’t a story for the rebels but the teacher’s pets.