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Private Lessons
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Private Lessons
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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...
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...
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  • 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.

Reviews-

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2020

    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.-Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2020
    A high school student pursues musical excellence and experiences the high cost of gaining her piano teacher's favor. Seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay dreams of attending a college where her love of classical music will not distance her from her peers. She knows that tuition at her top choices is too high for her and her widowed mother to afford. After her guidance counselor suggests that she participate in music competitions, which would enhance her college applications and potentially lead to scholarships, Claire seeks instruction from Paul Avon, one of the best piano teachers in the Bay Area. Paul maintains high standards for his students; though Claire strives to satisfy Paul's expectations, her best efforts are not always enough, and she becomes increasingly sensitive to his critiques. Salaysay captures the mindset of a girl steeped in self-consciousness, craving praise while expecting criticism, torn between fitting in and just being herself. The leisurely paced plot allows tension to build slowly, almost imperceptibly, until things take a troubling turn in the second half of the book and Claire becomes a victim of sexual assault. The writing is poetic in the moments when Claire reflects on the music she hears and plays. Her vivid descriptions convey a deep appreciation for the genre that will resonate with readers. Claire is Filipina; Paul is white. A cautionary tale that pays tribute to the allure of classical music. (Fiction. 16-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 1, 2020
    Grades 8-12 *Starred Review* Salaysay's debut novel beautifully explores topics not often addressed in YA fiction: the insular, often rewarding pressure-cooker world of young classical musicians, and the all-important, sometimes fraught dynamic of the student-teacher relationship. Even more extraordinary, she sensitively portrays the power dynamics of race, class, and sex within that relationship. Seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay is the reserved only child of Filipino immigrants. Her father's death five years earlier has left her mother in a dizzying depression, clinging desperately to the comfort of church groups. Claire spends most of her time at the piano, trying to fulfill her father's dream that she become a concert pianist. Claire is accepted as a student of San Francisco pianist Paul Avon, whose methods bring her tremendous musical growth, and she transfers her affection to the handsome musician. When Avon takes advantage of Claire sexually, she realizes she has to break off her involvement?but will that mean sabotaging a promising career? Salaysay gets so much right, including the difference between public school in middle-class, heavily Asian Fremont and the rarefied, primarily white private-school world of San Francisco. Claire's need for affection and acceptance leads her into entirely believable and utterly sad encounters, while the strength she musters carries her through to an uplifting conclusion.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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