Parenting a Prodigy: Background information when reading The Perfect Girl

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The Perfect Girl

by Gilly Macmillan

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan X
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 464 pages
    Sep 2016, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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Parenting a Prodigy

This article relates to The Perfect Girl

Print Review

In Gilly Macmillan's The Perfect Girl, seventeen-year old Zoe Maisey is a musical prodigy. Her genius, Zoe says, is "temptingly bright" to other people but she sounds a strong note of caution: "Be careful what you wish for, because everything has a price." Her mother and stepfather, she explains "are disguising a level of ambition for their children that could choke you." In Zoe's case, because she has a criminal past, her mother is even more desperate for Zoe's prodigious musical ability to be her salvation, the key to them moving forward with a second chance at life.

Child prodigies are most common in the realms of athletics, mathematics, music and chess, and parenting such a child is far from easy.

Lang Lang and Alma Deutscher Lang Lang, one of the world's most successful musicians, was just nine years old, when his piano teacher pronounced that he had no talent. As a result, Lang Lang's father "went totally nuts" and told his son to kill himself.

At the other end of the scale, Alma Deutscher, a ten-year-old girl from Surrey, England, who was featured in a previous BookBrowse article, is growing up in a much less stressful environment. Her life is different from other children, however, and her parents feel it was important that she be homeschooled. Alma, a pianist and violinist who has composed her own version of the Cinderella opera, has been writing music since she was five years old. Her parents' decision to keep her out of the school system has been based on a wish to avoid social pressures and allow her to "be as much a child as she wants to be." For Zoe in The Perfect Girl, social pressures, because of her status as a piano prodigy, contribute to her problems.

Psychiatrist Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, believes that prodigiously talented children face similar challenges and experiences to those with disabilities and this is equally true for their parents. "All parenting is guesswork," he explains, "and difference of any kind, positive or negative, makes the guessing harder."

Certainly, Solomon would agree with Zoe's cautionary words about the apparent glamor of genius. As he writes in an article for The New York Times, "Stigmatized differences–having Down Syndrome, autism or deafness; being a dwarf or being transgender – are often clouds with silver linings. Families grappling with these apparent problems may find profound meaning, even beauty in them. Prodigiousness, conversely, looks for a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds; genius can be as bewildering and hazardous as a disability."

Picture of Lang Lang from Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland
Picture of Alma Deutscher by Alex Nightingale Smith

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Perfect Girl. It first ran in the November 2, 2016 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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