Private Lessons

Candlewick. May 2020. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536209600.
Gr 9 Up–The only time 17-year-old Claire Alalay truly feels like herself is when she is playing piano. The rest of the time seems divided between awkward social interactions; scrutiny from her traditional Filipino mother and an army of aunts; as well as the desperate need for approval, acceptance, and love. Hoping that success in competition will increase her scholarship chances and get her into a better school, she auditions for Paul Avon, a revered but notoriously difficult piano teacher. When Paul agrees to teach Claire, her world opens wide and comes into clear focus. Practicing constantly, she becomes obsessed with the music, and with Paul, seeking his seemingly impossible approval and affection. At its heart, this is a coming-of-age novel and in that regard it succeeds quite nicely, but it also delves into other, more significant areas as well. It is a novel of acceptance as Claire tries to navigate a different sort of social circle at the expense of past relationships and expectations, and the consequences when desire for validation becomes obsession. It is also a novel of sexual awakening. In her debut novel, Salaysay does an excellent job of exploring all these facets and handles them with a sense of honesty and realism that allows Claire to shine as a fully-realized, completely believable character who will resonate with older teens. Be aware there are some fairly strong sexual situations if that is a consideration for purchase.
VERDICT An excellent coming-of-age story with strong, believable characters and situations.

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