ARC REVIEW: PRIVATE LESSONS by Cynthia Salaysay

Thank you, Candlewick Press, for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

‘Private Lessons is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who confuses idolisation with affection when she starts to attend lessons with a charismatic, male piano teacher, Paul Avon. She has always loved playing but things become exponentially more serious when she realises that she’s desperate for even a hint of Paul’s approval and her feelings begin to spiral out of hand.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a girl who becomes so obsessed with being loved that she is taken advantage of, and how she makes it through this. With a devastatingly, heartbreakingly vulnerable protagonist, this is a painful and necessary story in light of the #MeToo movement.

I think that this book is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever read. The writing style is easy and readable, jumping between harshly realistic whilst Claire is in the real world and beautifully poetic whilst she’s playing the piano, but this book contains a lot of difficult content that is not for the faint of heart. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to read but you know you have to, and I found myself crying more than once at what Claire was going through. A lot of what happens is stuff that, as someone who has gone through my teenage years already, was so believable for me and that really hit me hard. I have thankfully never been through anything at all like what Claire has in this novel, but I know how easy it is to be swept up in trying to impress people and how quickly you can lose yourself to please others, and that made this story especially poignant.

Claire makes mistakes in this book, and normally I’d call a character out on such problematic thoughts, actions and feelings, but I can’t bring myself to with her. The mistakes that she makes are not mistakes made by the author in writing the story, but very intentional reminders that Claire is only seventeen-years old and trying to fit in. She’s an incredibly vulnerable, innocent young girl who is desperate to be loved and found beautiful, and that’s something that both the reader and the other characters can tell about her. It’s painfully believable the way others take advantage of her and, in terms of emotional connection, she is probably the character I’ve cared about the most so far this year.

Many of the characters in this story are bad for Claire, at least at certain points, but all of them are completely believable. Every single character in this story is going through something that is affecting their emotional or mental health, and it’s so impressive to see such three-dimensional characters that aren’t completely over-exaggerated. It’s heartbreaking that Paul is so realistic, rather than a caricature villain, and that Claire’s friends so quickly swept her into lifestyles that she wasn’t comfortable with. Rather than getting annoyed at Claire for her mistakes, I wanted to protect her.

The final part of this book is, thankfully, a little easier to read. Seeing the character growth in Claire and her mother particularly, and the way they are able to leave others behind, is so important to tie this story together and Cynthia Salaysay handled this incredible well. I literally couldn’t put this book down until I finished the entire thing and I’m so glad that I powered through such an uncomfortable but hopeful tale of growth and recovery.

RATING: 4.5/5

If you’d like to buy a copy of this book, it publishes on May 12th and you can get it here.*

*I get a small commission if you use any of my links.

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