Four Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).
Thirteen-year-old Allegra Katz has played the piano as long as she can remember, encouraged by her musician parents. She's enrolled in the Pre-College Division of the famous Julliard School, plus she goes to a select, private school for gifted students. She practices four hours a day--not nearly enough according to her piano teacher, Miss Pringle--and studies for her classes the rest of the time. Her best friend Opal asks her to go shopping, sleep over, and other fun stuff, but Ally just doesn't have the time, with the constant pressure to practice for upcoming competitions and juries. Every season seems to bring its own unique pressures, and this year Ally is wondering if it's too much for her. She can't imagine NOT playing the piano, but the relentless stress is starting to wear on her.
Ally is an entirely sympathetic character, and Zalben has crafted her story well. The insular world of music prodigies forms a fascinating part of the story, but Ally's situation could apply to any of the areas in which children compete these days. Highly recommended for ages 11 & up. No sexual situations, language.
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