Author: Jessica Martinez
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published on: October 18, 2011
Challenge: Completely Contemporary Challenge
Summary: Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot…what if Jeremy is better?
Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can’t end well, but she just can’t stay away. Nobody else understands her–and riles her up–like he does. Still, she can’t trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what’s expected.
Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall….
Friends, I have a big weakness for reading books (or watching movies or TV shows, for that matter) set in the world of the creative arts. Music, art, dancing–whatever the skills, I am most likely IN. Because I have no rhythm at all, nor can I draw a straight line with a ruler, reading about people who CAN do those things is kind of a really awe-inspiring change of pace for me. It’s such a markedly different world that always seems so special. VIRTUOSITY by Jessica Martinez is just such a book, you guys, and for the reasons I just mentioned AND MORE, I loved it.
First off, I have to say that of all the musical instruments I don’t/can’t play but WISH REALLY HARD that I did/could, the violin is probably in a three-way tie for number 1 with the guitar and cello. String instruments, FTW!! But I love the violin something fierce. So to say that I was excited by, jealous of, and in awe of both Carmen and Jeremy’s mad skillz is an understatement. And I love how the world of classical musicians–which always seems so civilized and snobbish and sophisticated–is actually cutthroat as all get out. Drama! Scandal! Reputations being soiled! The uncivilized underbelly of it all makes for GREAT stories, and Carmen and Jeremy’s is no exception.
You see, Carmen Bianchi is the star of VIRTUOSITY by Jessica Martinez and she’s a prodigy, friends. An almost 18-year-old, Grammy-winning, world-touring, Stradivarius-playing violin STAR. Has been for a while. Carmen’s not handling things the way she used to when she was younger, though, so her momager gets her on some meds so that she can keep up appearances and hopefully win this huge competition. Which is where she meets Jeremy King, who’s Carmen except the British-guy version. They start getting to know one another, and it’s all fun and games until someone loses a $50,000 check, a four-year lease on a priceless, PERFECT, 250+-year-old violin, and worldwide acclaim and opportunities to make serious BANK. Drama and woe follow.
While you might read the flap on VIRTUOSITY by Jessica Martinez and think that the most important relationship here is between Carmen and Jeremy, well, you could certainly make that case and I’d mostly buy it. But to me, the big relationship that we see here is between Carmen and her mom, Diana. They have a really interesting relationship. Interesting meaning unhealthy, and unhealthy meaning weird, and weird meaning I sometimes had a hard time remembering that Diana was her mother, or was even supposed to be a mother-like figure. First of all, Carmen doesn’t call her mom. She calls her Diana. Personally, if I ever called my mom by her name instead of “mom,” she’d have kicked my ass. So right away I knew that there was some kind of mother-daughter disconnect there. It didn’t seem so bad to me at first. They seemed unique but not bad. But the further I read, the more I realized that Carmen and Diana’s relationship stank. This is because, secondly, Diana is a momager. AND HOW. The further the story got, the less motherly she appeared, cutting Carmen down, reigning her in, keeping her from doing things, controlling EVERYTHING, lying, and eventually getting into some dirty business that rocks Carmen’s world. Very little in the way of affection. I didn’t like her. And seriously, I can’t think of very many things worse for a teenager’s emotional and psychological well-being than having to bear the weight of a parent’s missed opportunities or squandered potential. Carmen does, and it crushes her, friends. In every way.
But Carmen is so much stronger than she realizes, and I loved her. She grows into her gumption and her strength and her self-reliance, mostly by making up her mind to kick the anti-anxiety meds her mom has had her on for years to help with performance jitters, and which Carmen has increasingly come to rely on. Carmen just wants to live her own life and make her own decisions, and its her relationship with her mother that suffers the most. Throughout VIRTUOSITY Carmen is struggling with meeting other people’s expectations and wanting to do things her own way. Classic coming-of-age stuff, and rooting for Carmen to pull through was EASY. She deserves good things. I will say that there were times I thought the book was going to go to a different place with the drugs that I would have liked A LOT, but the way things play out here was just as awesome. I loved the way Carmen reacted to and handled the major shizz at the end.
Her relationship with Jeremy was good, and I loved their banter. Seeing them connect was great for me but tricky for them, what with their being co-competitors for this CRAZY prestigious prize. Sometimes it felt a little rushed to me, though (the bulk of the action takes place over just about two weeks), and I was probably as skeptical of Jeremy’s real feelings as Carmen was for a little while because they seemed to come from nowhere. But I did really enjoy reading about their connection because, at least for Carmen, it took some work. It was satisfying. Light on the kissy-face, but satisfying.
I can’t believe I’ve already written this much! I don’t know how it happened. So basically, I’ll try and wrap things up by saying that Carmen’s world has always been about her talent and her celebrity, in it’s own small-world way. She’s changing, though, and she’s starting to understand things as a young adult who doesn’t need to be bossed around by her overbearing mom anymore. Carmen’s taking control, and it’s really something, guys. Jeremy is both an impetus and an incentive for Carmen to take the reins, and while Carmen’s not perfect, she’s still an impressive young lady. VIRTUOSITY by Jessica Martinez is not just a story about music. It’s about a young girl shaking off the last little bits of childhood naivete and GROWING UP. The music and the boy are just bonuses.