Title: An Uncommon Education
Author: Elizabeth Percer
Review: Too often in life I will hear someone say “All my problems will be over once” something happens. The teenager thinks going to college will change them; the college kid thinks a real job with a paycheck will, the young employee thinks marriage, then children, then empty nester, retirement, and so on. The real truth about life is we never get rid of our problems, rather we just trade them in for new ones. The only constructive thing a person can do at any sage of life is to address their problems head on and befriend them. It is through this you can find some sort of peace.
Naomi Fienstein is a young woman severely troubled by life. A disinterested mother and a secretive father beset with ill health. When her father has a heart attack right in front of her she decides that she can fix this. She will dedicate her life to medicine, specifically to the heart. But her problems mount at school as she is without friends, a social outcast who is picked on. Her first love, the neighbor boy suddenly moves away and she is left alone. She deals with the loneliness by literally running away from it; taking to the streets to run. Eventually life will be better when she gets to college, her problems left behind.
When meeting her freshman roommate her father comments how she is Naomi from down the street, symbolically demonstrating that for all her running, all her planning she has yet to travel very far. Because at the end of the day her life is still with her. Her dad does not open up about his past, her mother does not magically change into a caring person, and she still spends most of her time at the library.
An Uncommon Education is a wonderful coming of age story. It shows a young woman who is forced to see herself for who she really is, and to stop letting others define her. Be that her father, her peers, or the mentors in her life. The turning point in her life is her inclusion into Wellesley’s oldest college group the Shakes. A college club (but definitely not a sorority) dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare. She is immediately pressed into playing Laertes in Hamlet. Much like her, Laertes is a child who acts against his own interests when he will not look at the whole picture, the truth of the situation. He continues down the path created by his father and King Claudius until ultimately all is lost.
Fortunately Naomi springs to life from this role, finally making true friends, making an ever so small connection with her father, and finally experiencing life on its own terms. An Uncommon Education is a fantastic look at growing up, a child breaking free of their own limitations and finding happiness in their situation. Befriending her problems and turning them into opportunities.
Publisher: Published May 1st 2012 by Harper
Quick Review: 4 1/2 Stars out of 5.
Why I read it: It was recommended for people who loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, and Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics; all books I have enjoyed.
Where Did I Read the Book: Sent by the publisher for review.
Synopsis: A young woman tries to save three people she loves in this elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut.
Afraid of losing her parents at a young age—her father with his weak heart, her deeply depressed mother—Naomi Feinstein prepared single-mindedly for a prestigious future as a doctor. An outcast at school, Naomi loses herself in books, and daydreams of Wellesley College. But when Teddy, her confidant and only friend, abruptly departs from her life, it's the first devastating loss from which Naomi is not sure she can ever recover, even after her long-awaited acceptance letter to Wellesley arrives.
Naomi soon learns that college isn't the bastion of solidarity and security she had imagined. Amid hundreds of other young women, she is consumed by loneliness—until the day she sees a girl fall into the freezing waters of a lake.
The event marks Naomi's introduction to Wellesley's oldest honor society, the mysterious Shakespeare Society, defined by secret rituals and filled with unconventional, passionate students. Naomi finally begins to detach from the past and so much of what defines her, immersing herself in this exciting and liberating new world and learning the value of friendship. But her happiness is soon compromised by a scandal that brings irrevocable consequences. Naomi has always tried to save the ones she loves, but part of growing up is learning that sometimes saving others is a matter of saving yourself.
An Uncommon Education is a compelling portrait of a quest for greatness and the grace of human limitations. Poignant and wise, it artfully captures the complicated ties of family, the bittersweet inevitability of loss, and the importance of learning to let go.
Author Biography: Elizabeth Percer's poetry has been published widely, and she has been twice honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation and nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She received a B.A. in English from Wellesley, a Ph.D. in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at Berkeley. Percer's academic publications on art, the education of the imagination, and writing have been published and presented internationally. She lives in California. Her webstie is www.elizabethpercer.com.