Many thanks to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for the ARC! This book was published on May 12 2020 and is now available for purchase.
My Rating: 4 stars
Private Lessons is a coming-of-age story focused on Claire, a young pianist who begins taking lessons with a prestigious teacher to up her chances of getting into a good college. As her lessons begin to take over her life, an unhealthy relationship forms between her and her teacher, Paul. This is, of course, a difficult topic to take on, but Cynthia Salaysay handles it well. Claire and Paul’s relationship grows slowly, at first seeming innocuous but then becoming more sinister. It’s upsetting to watch, but it feels incredibly real. Due to this subject matter, this book won’t be for everyone. It does include depiction of sexual assault.
Rather than being plot-driven, this book centers on Claire’s emotional journey. There aren’t many major plot events and the pacing is fairly slow. I think this worked really well for the story, but some people may not like it. It takes quite a while for Claire and Paul’s relationship to even come to a head, and that’s the main focus of the summary. But Claire’s emotional state and the daily events of her life are an important part of what makes her vulnerable to Paul. She is dealing with the death of her father, a strained relationship with her father, friendship problems, boy problems, and issues related to race and class. The slow progression of all of these is important for her coming-of-age arc.
I found Claire to be a great character. She feels very much like a real teenager. She’s insecure and often unlikable. She’s a jerk sometimes, especially to her mother. But I completely understood where she was coming from because I’ve been there. Again, some people may not like this and think she’s grating, but I love finding teen characters who feel like actual teenagers.
This book also has some great representation because Claire is Filipino-American. This is a culture that I don’t think I’ve ever read about, so I found it very interesting. Claire’s mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, as are many of the women we see at her prayer group. The book gives a great glimpse into both Filipino and immigrant culture and the struggles they encounter. We see them mixing English and Tagalog. We hear about Claire’s elementary school teacher telling her parents not to teach her Tagalog because it will confuse her. We see Claire encounter racism several times. I’m also pretty sure Salaysay is Filipino-American, so this is an own voices book.
Overall this is an incredibly real and relevant coming-of-age story for our current world, and it’s definitely worth checking out!