Four Seasons by Jane Breskin Zalben: A classic celebration of the challenges and opportunities of growing up gifted

Just thinking of giving up the piano makes me break out in hives. Big fat red ones. But I think about it all the time. Allegra Katz—Alley Cat to her mother, just plain Ally to her friends—is struggling to decide whether music is really worth giving up her Saturdays with BFF Opal and just being a regular kid. As Ally moves through Juilliard’s precollege program and a Vermont summer music camp, Zalben explores the life of young, gifted musicians who are yearning to experience more than music and who must negotiate with parents who push in typically high-achieving fashion. Zalben’s peripheral characters are just as compelling as Ally. Yes, her parents are controlling, but they are loving and dimensional, as are acerbic and demanding Miss Pringle, the archetypal music teacher, and Ally’s few friends, who provide sparks of joy, occasional jealousy, and support. Pair this memorable title with Virginia Euwer Wolff’s classic celebration and acknowledgment of the challenges and opportunities of growing up gifted, The Mozart Season (1991).

— Booklist, on Four Seasons, by Jane Breskin Zalben


Young adult fiction readers will find this book powerful, filled with intrigue, high drama and strong characterization. Four Seasons tells of four seasons in the life of an aspiring young pianist. Ally is a master at playing the piano. She has been taking lessons since she was four. She is now thirteen. She takes lessons from one of the most talented teachers in New York City at the pre-college program at Juilliard. You have to audition to get into the program, and to stay in the program you have to live and breathe music. She needs to practice at least six hours a day, and she goes to lessons during the week and all day on Saturdays. Her teacher wants her to quit her public school and be home-schooled so she will have even more time to practice.

Ally isn’t buying this anymore. She realizes that she is missing out on being a kid. She wants to spend a Saturday hanging out with her best friend and her almost-boyfriend. But her parents are into music, too. Her dad makes his living playing the violin and her mother sings. They don’t want her to give up her dream.

Ally is confused and doesn’t know what she wants to do. She has a love of music but also a passion fro mathematics. The story in Four Seasons is not lighthearted. This tale tells about how stressed kids can be who are over-programmed in life, and how that stress can cause many problems for them.

I really enjoyed this book and hope that many others will, too.

Strict practices, music classes, and regular school leave her little time for a personal life. Her professional musician parents don’t know she’s thinking of quitting piano, and Allegra needs to find out if she really loves the piano and why she plays so avidly.

Ally’s intense story springs to life in this engrossing novel.

“A fascinating life lesson–one that resonated with me personally. Sometimes you have to destroy who you are to create the next you. Readers will be captivated by Ally’s musical journey, and in her personal journey, they will see themselves. What a great story! I loved the book.”—Gordon Korman, coauthor of the 39 Clues series“Heartfelt, lyrical, and humorous, with unforgettable, true-to-life characters living lives we don’t get to read about every day.” — Judy Blume

“Offering an insider’s peek at the competitive world of gifted young performers, where the pressure to be perfect can become all-consuming, this intimate story shows how one middle schooler survives by listening to her heart.”—Publishers WeeklyExcerpt:

Four hours of practice a day. At least. That’s what they want me to do. By “they” I mean the Pre-College Division music program I go to all day on Saturdays. It is part of a large conservatory, The Juilliard School. Everyone in the know always says “The” and not just plain old “Juilliard.” That “the” means it’s the only one of its kind in the world. And the truth is, it is.Even though I aim for four hours, the kids who are homeschooled, or forced, or just plain robots do at least five. The ones who love to play and can’t stop, six or more. But I have so much homework from my regular school–where everyone is “gifted” because it’s private and the parents nearly poison each other to get their child in–that it’s hard to fit in more than three. If my mother knew, I’d probably get chewed out–big-time. Maybe she does, for I believe that, like most mothers, mine sees and hears everything.

When Mom’s not doing her voice trills at the piano, I squeeze in at least an hour or more of all twelve major and minor scales, which I count as part of my practice routine–even though I am not supposed to–along with the pieces I am supposed to learn. Miss Pringle, my teacher, picks them out for me for recitals and competitions and end-of-the-year jury evaluations, like the Chopin Prelude in E minor, which is one of the pieces I am studying right now. The prelude is paced and slow. The strewn-together notes make me ache every time I play it. It sounds so beautiful I struggle to hold back tears. By the tenth measure, the melody takes over and goes up ever so slightly in a minor key. My eyes start to become blurry, but I continue. Then, toward the end, I get this uplifting surge. It happens every time I play this piece. Not hear it, actually play it. I guess ol’ Chopin does it for me like Billie Holiday does it for Ma.

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