Book Review: Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay (eARC)

Private Lessons

Author: Cynthia Salaysay

Publication Date: 12 May 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 320

Publisher: Candlewick Press

In a standout debut for the #MeToo era, a young pianist devotes herself to her art — and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes.

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

Author Cynthia Salaysay composes a moving, beautifully written portrait of rigorous perfectionism, sexual awakening, and the challenges of self-acceptance. Timely and vital, Private Lessons delves into a complicated student/teacher relationship, as well as class and cultural differences, with honesty and grace.

The more time I’ve had to sit and think about this book, the more I realize that this one really just wasn’t for me. It has to do more with the writing rather than the specific content.

Claire is a first generation American with Filipino immigrants as parents. With that comes the pressure to be perfect: 4.0 GPA, excelling in piano, and gunning for scholarships to the best universities.

Claire decides to hire an exclusive piano tutor to sharpen her skills in order to be more competitive. However, the line between student and teacher is blurred, and Claire finds herself in the hands of a master manipulator.

I think that this book is incredibly timely with the MeToo movement and addresses pertinent societal issues. However, I don’t think this book does a great job of telling the actual story. The plot of this book is too slow for YA in my opinion. While I do think it is important for teens to have books that feature heavier content, a warning about the on-page rape needs to be included.

The protagonist herself is just not a great character. Overall, she is uninteresting and unlikable and does nothing to keep the plot moving forward. We find ourselves meandering around her thoughts more than anything. In all honesty, it seems like much thought didn’t go into her development.

While I commend the author for tackling tough themes, I just don’t think the overall objective was met with this one.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a review copy through NetGalley. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

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