Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

I saw Virtuosity a few months ago and instantly knew I had to get my hands on it. I’m a sucker for books about music or dance, especially those written by musicians themselves and this fits the bill perfectly. Jessica Martinez has been both a violin teacher and a symphony violinist, not to mention she’s now the author of this amazing YA novel. Not sure which is the biggest achievement there really…

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot …what if Jeremy is better than her?

I really really liked Virtuosity. At times I’ve wanted desperately to be a classical pianist, dancer and opera singer (my chosen drearily academic career path will probably tell you just how creative I am) so books like these give me the next best thing – the experience. Carmen’s shoes aren’t a bad pair to fill either – I actually really liked her, and I’m terrible for irrationally loathing protagonists. She’s not snobby about her talents, but she’s not irretrievably naive about the world either. Maybe a little, but it’s only to be expected from her sheltered world and it’s actually a little endearing.
It’s a much, much deeper book than you’d imagine. Carmen struggles not only with the looming competition and her pushy mother, but also the light of first love and an overwhelming dependence on anxiety medication. I think it’s the latter that really pushed Virtuosity into ‘awesome’ territory for me. Whilst not suffering from physical addiction, Carmen has been gradually led to believe that she cannot perform without Inderal. She’s ashamed of her secret weakness and yearns to let it go, but her mother and teacher refuse to even condone the idea. It wasn’t really a necessary sub-plot and I wouldn’t even have thought of including it – but it makes me wonder exactly what the author witnessed during her violining days! All in all, there’s a lot of sub-plot shaped balls for Jessica Martinez to keep in the air… but she manages, and does so with style.
It’s even written wonderfully – not a hint of the clunkiness that often pervades hastily dashed off YA novels. It’s here that the author’s musical experience really comes to light – Carmen and her mother are intimately familiar with symphonies, arias and musical technique but their knowledge is slotted into the text so subtly it never feels like somebody has just opened a music textbook and is just showing off what she knows.

Furthermore, Carmen’s emotions are shown to us completely. Elation, doubt, confusion, suspicion… we’re not just told that Carmen is feeling them, we’re shown through her actions and her words. We’re even inside her head as she tries to puzzle out the actions of others – Jeremy and her mother for example. It’s a remarkable feat of prose. 

The final fifth or so introduces a twist that I can’t quite decide if I liked or not. The notes in my Filofax were scribbled as I read, so it kind of goes ‘Annoying subplot. Actually, it’s okay. Argh, no it’s not. Oh well, I’m used to it now…’ and so on. Looking back on it a week later, I can now accept that it worked. I’ve talked before about having different reactions to a book right after you’ve finished and a week later, and this is one of those instances. I did love the entire thing and even that little niggle has ironed itself out in my mind. There was a decision Carmen made that wasn’t very believable and that still bugs me (and it’s not as obvious as you’d think, so I’m not being spoilery) but I can cope.

Obviously, I loved Virtuosity. Almost every single little thing about it. Not only can I not wait for Jessica Martinez’ new book, but I’ll be purchasing a paper copy of this one just as soon as I can. It’s a wonderful, wonderful YA novel about music, romance and career pressure and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Visit Jessica Martinez’ super pretty website here, or find her on Twitter.


  1. Ellie says:

    Aaaaaaaand I've added it to my wishlist. I love anything music-related too, so it sounds right up my street! 🙂

  2. Allison says:

    I loved almost every single thing about this one as well – and I need to get myself a copy of it too!

  3. Jana says:

    This sounds really good! I've been batting around the idea of buying this one, and I think you've convinced me to put it on my list!

    – Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl

  4. This sounds like a good one! I hadn't heard of it before.

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