________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 13. . . .November 25, 2011



Jessica Martinez.
New York, NY: Simon Pulse (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2011.
294 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-1-4424-2052-6.

Subject Headings:
Mothers and daughters-Fiction.
Competition (Psychology)-Fiction.
Conduct of life-Fiction.
Drug abuse-Fiction.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



I took inventory of myself. I hadn't taken Inderal in over a week, but the feelings churning through me were just as bad as that first performance without it.

I felt nauseous, and my hands couldn't get colder, not even if I'd plunged them into a bucket of ice and held them there. My legs were shaky, but I could walk.

I gave the audience one last glance, and this time I saw Clark and Yuri in the far left corner. I'd been too busy looking for Jeremy and missed them before. Yuri sat slumped in his chair, his head nestled into the mountain of his hunch-back, his hands folded patiently in his lap. His presence was calming. After my last lesson, I wasn't sure he would come at all. Everything had felt so final when I'd left.

Win it for myself. That was what he'd told me. I was trying.

I'd spent the last week unravelling. Layer after layer peeled off, was still peeling off, and underneath. . . I didn't really know what was underneath.

The metallic ding of the proctor's bell jerked me out of my thoughts. It was time. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the stage. One foot at a time, slowly, evenly, I made my way to the center, barely aware of my accompanist behind me.

I'm okay. Awful but okay. The realization hit just in time. My knees were shaky, but not buckling. My hands were still cold, but I could move them.

The proctor announced me, articulating each syllable,

"Car-men    Bi-an-chi  . "

I glanced at the judges' table, put my violin on my shoulder and began to play.


Carmen Bianchi is on the cusp of a brilliant musical career as a classical violinist. The only hurdle between her and classical stardom is the Guarneri, the most prestigious competition in classical music. In two weeks Carmen plays in the semi-finals, and her chances of moving to the finals and eventually winning it all are excellent. Her only real competition is Jeremy King, a talented young British violinist. All Carmen has to do is keep practising, keep focussed and keep herself from falling in love with her major competitor.

      In this first novel, Jessica Martinez shows her passion for music and her understanding of not only musicians, but human nature. Carmen is an intriguing young woman: talented, ambitious and hard-working. She has been thinking of nothing but the Guarneri competition for months. Yet she finds she now needs to take anti-anxiety drugs before going onstage, and suddenly her mother's close involvement with her career is suffocating Carmen and becoming almost claustrophobic. Carmen has always done what she was told and what others expected. Is winning the Guarneri competition really just for herself?

      Jeremy King, the book's other main character, is a strong competitor with his own personal reasons for wanting the Guarneri award and the money and prestige which accompany it. Is he trying to get close to Carmen because he truly likes her and admires her musicianship, or are his motives more devious?

      Martinez weaves together the lives of these two young adults in a novel which has overtones of romance and passion and also suspense. Who will eventually win the competition? And what will be the result for the loser, both in personal as well as career terms? Martinez is able to keep readers in suspense, and the outcome is surprising yet satisfying. The novel ends with a choice for the "loser" which may just solve the problem. If Martinez continues with a second book and makes this a series, readers are sure to be interested.

      There are many noteworthy themes in Virtuosity: the pressures of competition, the role of parents and teachers when support threatens to become domination, the question of enhancing a performance through the use of drugs, and the aura of being involved in the realm of classical music either as a performer or as a patron or concert-goer. Martinez doesn't necessarily provide all of the answers, but she has Carmen and, thereby, her readers, examine them in detail.

      Virtuosity, a coming-of-age novel, presents both a male and a female protagonist, and both learn more about themselves and each other as they struggle with decisions which will shape their lives. The novel is all about choices, some of them tough, and how the characters are able to make them and deal with the consequences.

      Congratulations to Jessica Martinez on a novel full of emotion, tension and, above all, music. Readers see the virtuosity of Martinez on these pages and must hope that her career, like the musical careers of Carmen and Jeremy, will continue to bloom and blossom.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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