Four Seasons

Four Seasons

4.6 5
by Jane Breskin Zalben

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Allegra Katz has been playing piano since she was four. But these aren't just any piano lessons. She studies at the Julliard School in New York, where careers are being formed—or not.

Between strict practice schedules, music classes, and regular school, Ally doesn't have time for much else. Sometimes she wishes she could break free, but she's never known


Allegra Katz has been playing piano since she was four. But these aren't just any piano lessons. She studies at the Julliard School in New York, where careers are being formed—or not.

Between strict practice schedules, music classes, and regular school, Ally doesn't have time for much else. Sometimes she wishes she could break free, but she's never known any other way. Her parents—a professional violinist and a singer—would kill her if they knew she was thinking about quitting piano, especially her mother.

So she keeps on going, but as the months go by, she begins to ask herself, does she even love the piano? Why does she play? And how much longer can she stand the pressure before she breaks?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Divided by the seasons of the year, like Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, this coming-of-age novel traces a year in the life of a promising young pianist enrolled in a prestigious program at Juilliard. Ally, the daughter of a famous violinist and a former opera singer who now sings in New York City bars, has been playing piano since she was four. Now at age 12, she's having doubts about whether she wants to continue on the arduous path to become a great musician. Zalben (Leap) insightfully conveys her heroine's conflicting feelings about music—she regrets not having the time and freedom to pursue other interests and talents, like math, or spend time with her nonmusician friends—and what Ally is up against, dealing with harsh criticism from her compassionless teacher and fearing her parents' reactions if she quits piano. 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. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"I devoured Four Seasons in one gulp. Jane Breskin Zalben so convincingly inhabits the psyche of the thirteen-year-old piano prodigy, you might think it was written by a teenager.”—Judith Kogan, author of Nothing but the Best: The Struggle for Perfection at the Julliard School

"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 Weekly

"Pair this memorable debut with Virginia Euwer Wolff’s classic celebration and acknowledgment of the challenges and opportunities of growing up gifted, The Mozart Season (1991)."—Booklist

"An involving and compassionate story of a young girl in crisis."—The Horn Book

Children's Literature - Jennifer Waldrop
In this four-movement tale, Ally is the definition of an overextended young adult. She has been taking piano lessons since she was four years old. Nine years later, she is in a pre-college Julliard program, playing six hours a day, and going to classes nearly every day of the week. However, that is still not enough; her teacher suggests that she leave school and begin home schooling so that she can practice more hours per day. That suggestion is the tipping point for Ally, who has begun to wish piano did not take up so much of her life. This story is grimmer than one might expect as Ally is continually torn between her piano playing talent and her desire to be a normal kid. While not many readers will be able to relate to being a child prodigy, the themes of being conflicted and stressed are universal. It is recommended for children aged 9 through twelve, but older children will most likely enjoy the story as well. Reviewer: Jennifer Waldrop
VOYA - Sarah Sogigian
Allegra Katz has grown up doing one thing. Sure, there are school and friends and family, but only one thing that matters—and that is playing piano. Her parents are musicians and want only the best for their daughter: a spot at Julliard. She studies with the best teachers, plays the most impressive pieces of music, and does little else. When Ally starts to question her passion, she finds that she may not love the piano as much as she thought she did. What if, one day, she just stops? Zalben tackles an often-told tale, but sets it in the relatively unknown world of competitive music. Told in four sections (the four seasons), readers follow Ally through the most important year of her life. While this reviewer had some trouble sticking with the first part of the book, the story quickly picks up when Ally goes to summer camp and decides to take charge of her own life. What happens when she is true to herself? Will she disappoint her family and her teachers, and would it matter if it means she will be happy? While there are no major surprises in this novel, Ally is a character that many will relate to; she begins the book as a relatively passive young girl but grows into a strong, passionate young woman. This novel is a perfect companion for those teens not quite ready for Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (Delacorte, 2010/VOYA December 2010) with its epic history and much darker tone. Reviewer: Sarah Sogigian
Kirkus Reviews

Approaching her 13th birthday, seventh grader Allegra Katz begins to wonder if she really wants to spend her life playing the piano. How can she tell what she really wants, and how can she disappoint her parents and her teacher? From an unsure spring to a disastrous summer music camp and a breakdown in the fall through gradual recovery during the winter, Zalben charts a year in the life of a musically and mathematically precocious New Yorker in four chapters, each opening with an appropriate quotation from a Vivaldi sonnet. A fascinating and complex character, Ally puts demands on herself nearly as impossible as those of her unforgiving teacher. She lives in a world full of people under pressure: Her parents are professional musicians, everyone in her private school is "gifted" and, at Juilliard, she sees students much younger with burgeoning professional careers. Only her best friend Opal and first boyfriend Bradley model alternate paths. A surfeit of descriptive detail provides some relief from Ally's intensity and may well attract readers curious about her cosmopolitan world. (Fiction. 10-14)

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Allegra Katz, the daughter of professional musicians, has played piano since the age of four; nevertheless, she's rethinking her choice to make music the center of her life. Ms. Pringle, her longtime teacher at the Juilliard Pre-College, criticizes her constantly, and Ally finds her lessons totally stressful. She keeps her unhappiness to herself; however, while attending a high-powered summer music program, she finally descends into a depression that eventually sends her to a psychiatric ward. Understanding parents, a loving grandmother, and supportive friends encourage the girl to focus on the kind of music that speaks to her and help her to find her own creative way. The pressures of a conservatory education are realistically portrayed in this journey of self-discovery. Divided into the motifs of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Zalben's plot is both well developed and appropriately paced, and the book's quotations (taken from sources ranging from Pythagoras to Philip Glass) allow readers to anticipate the events within each chapter. Ally's romantic interests, her disagreements with her parents, and the ups and downs of middle school emphasize that, despite her precocity, she is very much a normal adolescent. Ally and her mother, a frustrated opera singer, are the best-developed characters, each of them undergoing significant changes in the course of the novel. Other figures, however, such as the all-loving grandmother, the uptight music teacher, and the true-blue best friend are fairly one-dimensional. Nevertheless, they all contribute in some way to Ally's growth as a person. While the musical details will appeal particularly to those with similar interests, the novel will find a general audience among readers who will identify with Ally's creative angst.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, The Naples Players, FL

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)
660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


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.

My mother sings blues as good as Norah Jones, in cramped dark bars near streets named for letters of the alphabet. "Years ago, when it was called Alphabet City, it was like the Wild West," Mom told me. "But now that the Lower East Side's grunginess has gotten hip and upscale, everybody who likes my kind of music goes down there."

Mom's weekday shows start around ten or eleven at night, when downtown really starts to wake up. Since on school nights I'm in bed by then, I've never seen one. My mother trained as an opera singer. But that's a whole other story.

She says, "I need to perform to stay alive. I don't care if it's at some bar on Avenue C instead of the Metropolitan Opera House. Music's like breathing air."

Sometimes I half believe her.

Last night before she left, I asked, "When can I go to one of your gigs already?"

"Maybe on your thirteenth birthday, Alley Cat."

"But that's in June! Over two months away!"

"Patience is a virtue."

"Trust me, Ma, anyone who plays classical music has a whole lot of patience."

"If anyone knows, I know." She sighed and started to gather up sheet music for her accompanist. When she noticed me staring at the word allegro at the top of a song, she said, "You know we named you Allegra because Dr. Goldstein needed a catcher's mitt the night you were born." Allegro means a brisk and rapid tempo.

"Thanks for sharing that with me for the millionth time, Ma." I gave her a major eye roll.

She plowed on. "Allegro's the opening for the concertos of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Dad was performing it the night you popped out. I guess you were destined to become a musician."

"Or a baseball player." I filled in one of Dad's lines in the familiar story, since he was away on tour.

My name might be Allegra, but mostly everyone calls me Ally.

Mom sometimes calls me Alley Cat after a dance Grandma does at the Y. Dad's mother has lived in her own place on the bottom floor of our brownstone ever since Grandpa died of a heart attack a few years ago. Grandma found him on their bedroom floor when she came back from her book club. She still feels sick about it, wondering, Would things have been different if only I had been there? She babysits me, if you could call it that—I'm way past the sitting age—when my parents are off doing their thing. I also suspect it's an excuse to come over because she's lonely without him, especially at dinnertime.

My father's the first violinist in a group called the Marduvian String Quintet, which means (a) he gets to play the hard parts, and (b) there are five instead of the usual four people in a group, which would have made it a quartet—totally weird in the music world—Dad named it after my mother's family, Marduvian, which sounds more exotic than ours, Katz. Katz plants us in the heart of the Upper West Side. Near Zabar's. And lox and bagels. And walking distance from Lincoln Center—"the dream of all performing artists," say my mother and father.

Parents come to New York City from all over the world so their child can study with some hotshot teacher at Juilliard. Fifty to ninety young musicians get in a year, depending on who applies. A lot of families are pulled apart—where one parent stays behind with the rest of the family while the other lets their son or daughter follow a dream. Whose dream it is, I'm not always sure, but the one thing I know is that I'm lucky to live only ten blocks away.

Meet the Author

JANE BRESKIN ZALBEN is the author of several novels, including Unfinished Dreams and Leap, her first novel for Knopf. She is also the author and illustrator the popular Beni and Pearl picture books, as well as many others.

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Four Seasons 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KidLitWriter More than 1 year ago
Allegra Katz is a piano prodigy who has been taking lessons from Miss Pringle, the best piano teacher at Julliiard School in New York, where 14 year-old Ally attends Pre-College. She has been taking these lessons since the age of 4, practicing at least 4 hours a day plus 2 more on her scales. With so much piano activity Ally has no time for anything else but High School, where she is also involved playing the piano. Ally's parents are accomplished musicians in their own right. Her father plays the violin while her mother sings opera. They are extremely proud of their daughter's gift and take pride that they are a musical family. The only non-musical member is Grandma who lives in an apartment connected to the condo. She is a free-spirit. Ally's friends are Opal, an artist who makes her art from odd objects and Brad, a school-mate with an interest in Ally. He works for his father in their restaurant and does not go to Jullliard. Ally begins to realize she is missing much of her childhood and begins to doubt her planned career in high stakes piano playing. She is afraid to tell her parents for fear they will be crushed. It also means choosing her summer at a math camp or the music camp she's attends each summer. Four Seasons is broken up into seasons and seasons into months rather than typical chapters. Each also begin with a poem or a famous quote. The story moves at a good pace and keeps you interested. There is a lot of professional piano lingo and lifestyle, yet it will not take the ability to play an instrument to enjoy this fun book. Teen behavior abounds in the form of first loves, rivalries and all the emotions that go with being a teenage girl. If I were asked what I did not like about Four Seasons it would be the ending; it is too long and drawn out. The story was over at the end of the third season. The conflict reached its peak and was resolved. Fall ends on a satisfying note (no pun intended). Winter is Ally's life, and those of her friends and family, after Ally's major decision. You get to see a glimpse of what those lives are now like. Those months add nothing to the story yet this epilogue is enjoyable reading. It's not often an author allow us to see the character's lives after the story has ended. Not just Ally's life but the lives of nearly every character mentioned. Opal and Brad, classmates,camp mates, parents and teachers. Nothing wrong with this, it adds a deeper satisfaction to all of the drama Ally endured the first 9 months of that year. Who will enjoy this young adult novel? Anyone accomplished in a musical field may be enjoyably taken back to their youth. Tenn girls will love power struggles between Ally and her mother and Ally and Miss Pringle. Those that like a well-constructed story will enjoy Four Season, the new novel from Jane Breskin Zalben. NOTE: received from publisher
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book Its my favorite
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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 she also has a love of 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.
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
Ally Katz is a thirteen-year-old piano genius, having played since she was four years old. She attends a private music school and practices up to six hours a day. She eat, breathes, and sleeps music, especially with very important recital coming up that will determine her musical future. As you can imagine, this rigorous schedule does not leave a lot of time for a social life. With criticisms getting stronger and stress levels rising, Ally begins to long for something outside of playing piano. A normal life, with girlie sleepovers and maybe even a boyfriend. However, gathering the courage to tell her parents and herself what she really wants is not going to be easy at all. Four Seasons was an interesting book. Occasionally there will be some kid on the news that lives a similar life as Ally, but reading about it first hand was an entirely different experience. I thought Ally's voice was very raw, very well-written. The reader gets to know her every ache, her hopes, her confusions. Ally's best friend Opal was absolutely adorable and completely charming. Though all teens go through some sort of encounter where they have to learn to express their feelings to their parents, I am not sure this book will appeal to a broad reading audience. It is very focused on the fierce competitive life of being a great musician, with little else in Ally's life that matters. Those who do pick up the book will be rewarded with cute scenes with boys and a happy ending.