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Private Lessons (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Beautifully written, musical, and lyrical, Private Lessons is a coming-of-age novel that pulled at my heartstrings. Claire's relationship with her mother and father had me weeping early on in the book, and I admired and understood her drive to escape her suburban life. Her Filipino heritage is a part of the story, but doesn't define her, and the microaggressions that she faces is depicted in the way it would be in real life––cutting but ultimately unnoticed by anyone but the target. The lens of Claire's journey is beautiful and brilliant and I enjoyed reading about her growing up.

— From Jackie's Staff Picks


In a standout debut for the #MeToo era, a young pianist devotes herself to her art — and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes.

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father's death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection. Author Cynthia Salaysay composes a moving, beautifully written portrait of rigorous perfectionism, sexual awakening, and the challenges of self-acceptance. Timely and vital, Private Lessons delves into a complicated student/teacher relationship, as well as class and cultural differences, with honesty and grace.

About the Author

Cynthia Salaysay holds a bachelor’s degree in English from University of California, Berkeley, and has workshopped her fiction at Tin House. She has written food and culture articles for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and Civil Eats. Currently, she works as a Reiki practitioner and an operating-room nurse in Oakland, California. This is her first novel.

Praise For…

In her debut novel, Salaysay does an excellent job of exploring all these facets and handles them with a sense of honesty and realism that allows Claire to shine as a fully-realized, completely believable character who will resonate with older teens...An excellent coming-of-age story with strong, believable characters and situations.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

Salaysay's debut novel beautifully explores topics not often addressed in YA fiction...Salaysay gets so much right, including the difference between public school in middle-class, heavily Asian Fremont and the rarefied, primarily white private-school world of San Francisco. Claire's need for affection and acceptance leads her into entirely believable and utterly sad encounters, while the strength she musters carries her through to an uplifting conclusion.
—Booklist (starred review)

The book is deft in conveying the hothouse intimacy of lessons, where physical touching and side-by-side closeness are the norms—but may also blend into grooming. The book is keenly realistic in the gradualness of Claire’s understanding and in her response to the event; there’s no grandstanding punishment for Paul, but readers will still cheer to see Claire succeeding without him on her own terms.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

Lyrical and complicated...In the #MeToo era, this novel well depicts the subtle and fractured emotions involved when a young person comes under the spell of a charismatic, powerful mentor.
—School Library Connection

Salaysay’s writing is fluid and evocative. Teens will recognize Claire’s desire for acceptance, profound grief, and drive to succeed at something she loves. The book’s ultimately heartening ending will empower young people and give them hope that gradual recovery from trauma is possible.
—The Horn Book

A must-read for everyone, but especially women.
—Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under the Udala Trees
Product Details
ISBN: 9781536209600
ISBN-10: 1536209600
Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date: May 12th, 2020
Pages: 320
Language: English