Excerpt from The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lucy Variations

By Sara Zarr

The Lucy Variations
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  • Hardcover: May 2013,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: 27 May 2014,
    336 pages.

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1.
Try harder, Lucy.

Lucy stared down at Madame Temnikova's face.

Which seemed incredibly gray.

Try.
Harder.
Lucy.


She put her hands over Temnikova's sternum again, and again hesitated.

Stage fright: an opportunity to prove herself or a chance to fail. Which was nothing new for her. It just hadn't been a life or death issue until now.

This isn't a performance. Do something.

But an actual dying person in the living room wasn't the same as a Red Cross dummy in the school gym. Lucy tried not to think about Temnikova's skin under her hands. Or the way, from the looks of things, that skin now encased only a body, no longer a soul.

Except the moment wasn't definite. More like Temnikova was not there and then there and then not there. Mostly not.

Gus, Lucy's ten-year-old brother, started to ask the questions he didn't want to answer. "Is she . . ."

Dead?

Call nine-one-one, Gus," she told him for the second time. He'd been motionless, mesmerized. Lucy kept her voice unwavering, though she felt like screaming. She didn't want to freak him out. Channeling her mother's dispassion and authority, she said, "Go do it right now."

Gus hurried across the room to the phone, and Lucy looked at the ceiling, trying to remember the steps in the Cardiac Chain of Survival—what went where and for how long. Where were her mother and grandfather, anyway? They were usually and annoyingly there, running the house and everything, everyone, in it like a Fortune 500 company.

The metronome on top of the piano ticked steadily; Lucy fought off the urge to throw a pillow at it. Instead she used it to time the chest compressions.

Still . . .

That sound.

Tick tick tick tick.

A slow adagio. A death march.

She didn't know how Gus could stand it. Spending day after day after day after lonely day in this room, with this old woman.

Everything good (tick) is passing you by (tick) as you sit here (tick) and practice your life away (tick).

Except she did know, because she'd done it herself for more than eleven years. Not with Temnikova, but in this room. This house. These parents. This family history.

"My sister is doing that," Gus said into the phone. Then to Lucy, "They want you to try mouth to mouth."

When Lucy and Reyna signed up for the CPR workshop at school last spring, they'd assumed their future patients would be sexy, male, and under forty, an idea which now seemed obviously idiotic. Lucy swept her hair back over one shoulder and braced herself.

Their lips met. Lucy's breath filled Temnikova's lungs. They inflated and deflated, inflated and deflated. Nothing. She went back to the chest compressions.

Gus was speaking, but his voice seemed far away. The order of Lucy's actions felt wrong; the backs of her thighs cramped. She looked up at Gus, finally, and tried to read his face. Maybe her inadequacy was engraving permanent trauma onto his psyche.Twenty years from now, in therapy, he'd confide to some bearded middle-aged man that his problems all began when his sister let his piano teacher die right in front of him. Maybe she should have sent him out of the room.

Too late now.

"Tell them I think . . . I'm pretty sure she's dead."

Gus held the phone out to Lucy. "You tell them." She stood and took it, wincing at the needles that shot through her sleeping left foot while Gus walked to the piano, stopped the metronome,and slid its metal pendulum into place.

The house seemed to exhale. Lucy gave the bad news to "them." After going over the details they needed, she hung up,and Gus asked, "Do we just leave her body here?"

Excerpted from The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr. Copyright © 2013 by Sara Zarr. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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