Author: Cynthia Salaysay
Genre: Young Adult > Conemporary Fiction
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Published: May 12, 2020
Format Read: Ebook via Netgalley
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.
About The Author
Cynthia Salaysay holds a bachelor’s degree in English from University of California, Berkeley, and has workshopped her fiction at Tin House. She has written food and culture articles for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and Civil Eats. Currently, she works as a Reiki practitioner and an operating-room nurse in Oakland, California. Private Lessons is her first novel.
The Potential Was There, But…
Much thanks to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for this complimentary copy. This review is voluntary and opinions are fully my own. Also, all quotes are taken from the ARC and may be different in the final published copy.
⚠ Content Warnings: Rape. Graphic description of sexual scenes. Underage drinking. Recreational drug use. Cancer. Death of a parent. Teacher/Student “relationship”. Huge age gap.
⚠ Book Tags: Piano. Classical music. Filipino lead character. Racial prejudice. Filipino author.
Private Lessons tells the story of Claire, a so-called prodigy who is dealing with her father’s recent death. She wanted to work with Paul Avon, this very famous piano teacher, to get higher chances of winning competitions and get into a scholarship. Eventually, she gets too enamored by her teacher and lines might get crossed.
This concept alone shows who the potential of this book to be amazing. However, all I felt while reading this book was uncomfortable and irritated.
The experience of being stuck inside Claire’s head was frustrating. She belongs to the roster of those YA leads that can get into your nerves, especially now that you are older.
I cannot deny that there are notable things that this author did right. Themes like cultural differences, grief, success, and the like are things we should shed light on. And rape, power imbalance, and sexual harrassment will always be a topic that people should be educated on.
However, the writing style in this book is not one that will entice you to finish the novel. The plot was dragging. In fact, nothing much happened throughout the book. It was very hard to be stuck in its extremely slow moving pace. Moreover, the author only took effort in developing Claire and Paul as characters, then the others just fell flat.
If you’re a classical music fan, you’ll love how music is described in this book. It was very immersive and perhaps, one of the few things that is likable about the story.
Overall, congratulations for the effort. I tried so hard to like this book, especially as it has a Filipino main character written by Filipino author, but it just failed to hit the spot.
My Book Rating Breakdown
🌼 Main Character:⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Support Characters:⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Writing Style:⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Character Development:⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Pacing: ⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Ending: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
🌼 Unputdownability: ⭐⭐☆☆☆
🌼 Book Cover:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆