Anyone who has seen an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms knows that stage parents can get out of control. There is little so intense as a parent’s ambitions for their child. In Jessica Martinez’s Virtuosity, Carmen is a violin prodigy with a stage mom to beat all stage moms. Diana, a former vocalist who lost her career due to polyps, keeps Carmen on a tight leash and channels all her own desires for fame into her talented daughter.
While Carmen prepares for a prestigious violin competition, her relationship with her mother grows increasingly tense. Carmen has been taking anti-anxiety medication to keep her stage fright under control, a practice her mother tells her is necessary and ethical, but one that makes her question her own legitimacy. More and more, Carmen wonders what will become of her as an adult career violinist, rather than a young prodigy.
Carmen begins to scope out the competition, which includes Jeremy, who is of course hot and off limits. Sick of always doing as she’s told, Carmen begins to get a little too close to the competition, despite her mother’s persistent nagging that any relationship developed could only be a result of Jeremy’s efforts to derail Carmen from focusing on the competition. Carmen, too, questions Jeremy’s motives, but does not want to risk giving up a chance at a relationship with one of the only people who has ever understood her.
Throughout the book, Carmen is forced to confront a number of difficult questions: Is she so busy focusing on winning that she’s losing her love for the music and what it makes her feel? When was the last time she felt anything? When you’re a virtuoso, can you have an identity apart from the music? Is there danger in wanting something too much? To what degree can your passion be your profession before something has to give?
Virtuosity is a compelling book about dedication, performance, passion, music, identity, and relationships. While the high-stakes romance is an enjoyable component of the story, it is Martinez’s artful writing of Carmen’s struggle with her mother and with her own identity that really kept me engaged. Fans of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay will likely enjoy this new novel about classical musician torn between her dreams and the people she loves.