Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What I Loved:

I really appreciate the author tackling such a tough subject matter. I am sure it is hard to write about the topics surrounding this story, but I feel it is also important for work like this to be available to people, especially a younger audience.

How I Felt:

This story was an emotional read. Written by debut author Cynthia Salaysay, it is touted as a #metoo story and it is, but it takes a while to get there. The book was slow to start and really draws out the manipulation by Paul, the music teacher. The author did a good job of showing how cunning Paul is as he passes small compliments to Claire in a very calculated manner.

The relationship between Paul and Claire begins as a student-teacher relationship for the piano. Paul slowly takes control of Claire in a predatory manner, ultimately driving her to a sexual relationship with him. I did feel that this was a bit graphic for a YA novel and mostly unnecessary to tell the story properly. When Claire finally breaks away from Paul and begins her journey of healing, I really felt like the story finally found its footing. It was the part I enjoyed most about the book.

The characters were not as strong as I would have liked. I felt that Claire was missing characteristics that would have helped her to connect to the reader. I think that in a story with this much importance in the subject matter, having readers connect with the main character is paramount. Without it, the takeaways and learnings become a bit muddled.

Claire’s relationship with her mother is extremely difficult to read about. I know that she is dealing with the loss of her father, but her actions make her extremely hard to like, resulting in another reason I struggled to connect with her.

Overall, this was a book that I struggled through in the beginning. I did not enjoy the main character, Claire, which made it difficult to read. Additionally, the story is slow to start and focuses less on the #metoo idea than I would have liked. It does have a good message and it’s a difficult subject to tackle, so I appreciate the author’s work in that regard.

Content Warnings:

Inappropriate student-teacher relationship, rape, somewhat graphic sexual encounters for a YA book.

To Read or Not To Read:

I would recommend Private Lessons for readers that enjoy an emotional story that covers tough topics in a real-feel setting.

Where to Find This Book:

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay is available at these sites.

Bookshop | Amazon Kindle | Amazon | Goodreads


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. 

Just the Facts:

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay
Genre: YA Contemporary
Page Count: 320 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub Date: May 12, 2020


I was provided an advanced reader’s copy of this book for free. I am leaving my review voluntarily.

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