Carmen Bianchi is a famous virtuosic violin player stressing over the life changing Guarneri competition. This includes obsessively practicing (as usual) and checking out the competition, which looks a lot like stalking. She is caught stalking by her main rival Jeremy King and they begin their love/hate relationship. They start sniping at each other through emails, but when they finally meet in person, they treat each other like people and actually get along. The competition is usually in the forefront of Carmen's mind, but her budding friendship/romance with Jeremy pushes it aside. Everyone in her life except her stepfather just care about her success and would do anything to get her there. They are even accepting and even encouraging about her dangerous addiction to anti-anxiety drugs. As Carmen wrestles with who she should trust, the competition draws closer. Although Jeremy seems to be the only person in her life who cares about her, is it only a facade for trying to get her to throw the competition?
I was first drawn to Virtuosity because the focus is on music performance. There haven't been a lot of recent teen books about the subject. Some authors include it as a minor detail to flesh out characters, but they never return to it again. (I'm looking at you Hush, Hush.) The author is very experienced in the field, being a teen star violinist herself, so her characters and their conflicts feel authentic to me. In the novel, she captures the reasons why I didn't choose to go into music performance when chose my music major focus in college: the cut-throat attitudes, the competition taking over the performer's life, and especially making music a joyless endeavor. I play the flute because I enjoy it and if that enjoyment was taken away, I wouldn't want to do it anymore. Carmen no longer enjoys making music because there is so much riding on each individual performance and there is pressure on her from all sides.
The most interesting aspects beyond music are the way she is treated by the people in her life. Her stepfather is the only person who really cares about her as a person and does things with her that are fun and outside her work. Her mother is incredibly intense and doesn't even acknowledge that she is still a teenage girl. At first, she seems really caring about Carmen and has her best interests at heart, but as the book goes on, it's clear that she just cares about her success and the money she brings. What shocked me the most was her lack of confidence in Carmen and her encouragement of Carmen's dependence on the anti-anxiety medication. Her teacher is horrible and doesn't care about her emotions or her wellbeing. Jeremy is her only real friend, but she is constantly struggling with her opinion of his motivations. I was a little disappointed that their relationship was the focus of the novel instead of Carmen's own personal journey. Most teen books focus on some sort of romance, but it would be nice to see more that don't.
Overall, I enjoyed Virtuosity. It provided a realistic look into the music performance industry. The descriptions of the performances were beautifully written. I would love to read whatever Jessica Martinez comes out with next.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins