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.
Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay is not a feel great sunshiny book. I don’t think the author intended it to be so. It’s a story about Claire, a piano protégé’ who falls prey to her instructor, Paul’s, machinations and for lack of a better word, is groomed to be taken advantage of. This is a painful story of a girl with deep insecurities whose emotions often run the gamut from sad and lonely, to jealous and harmful, both to herself and others. Claire isn’t always the most likeable of characters but the important message, especially in this month of mental health awareness and the critical #metoo movement, is that she experiences depression and anxiety and yet, finds a way to heal herself despite the odds.
While it’s a disturbing look at a predator who takes enormous pleasure in singling out young women, manipulating and abusing them, I think it also sends a positive message to women who’ve been victims of abuse. You are not alone and there is healing. Seeing Claire’s emotional wreckage all the way through to the end emphasizes just how important this message is.
Thank you to Candlewick Press, Cynthia Salaysay, and MMB Tours for providing me with a DRC of Private Lessons in exchange for my honest review.