Four SeasonsFour Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an emotionally engrossing novel that takes us through four seasons of Ally’s life, from almost-thirteen to almost-fourteen. She’s been taking piano lessons since the age of four, and now all of her free time is taken up with lessons and classes at Julliard. Ally is torn between loving the piano and wanting to be a normal kid and have free time to spend with her friends. She struggles to find the motivation to practice as much as she should (boy, can I relate to that – I was having flashbacks to ballet lessons for much of the book), with the thought of disappointing her musician & singer parents and her stern teacher if she opts out of recitals or even quits.

Each season of the book has its own emotional highs and lows – the intensity of lessons in the spring, combined with a few crushes, the friendships and disappointments at the summer music camp, and the escapism and depression of the fall. Things take an upward turn in the winter, but Ally earns her personal victories and the resolution never feels too easy. The plot manages to move along at a brisk pace, but this isn’t a book for readers who are bored by an in-depth exploration of teen emotions. At times it can be slightly over-wraught, but this feels mostly in keeping with the way it feels to be thirteen.

My only complaint is the occasional stilted dialog – characters, especially her parents, saying things that sound more authorial than natural, being clearer with their thoughts and emotionals than real human beings usually are. Another small issue (as another reviewer pointed out) is the incredible number of times Ally’s mother cries. I get crying at the drop of a hat, but for a while there, barely a scene goes by without her needing a hankie, and it starts to feel like a quick shorthand for her emotions rather than adding any emotional depth.

Overall, I’d recommend this, especially to young teen girls who are interested in stories about what it feels like to be thirteen. Young musicians might delight in reading about common experiences, but this also has wider appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about how we choose to live life.

Source: my public library

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