Meet Naomi Feinstein. She’s an uncommonly intelligent, quiet, stand-offish little girl who experiences several life-defining events as a young child. Her mother hides in her bedroom suffering from a deep depression, her father has a massive heart attack, and she loses her one true friend, Teddy, quite suddenly. These events set her determination to become a cardiologist and save everyone in her life. Her first goal? Attend Wellesley and everything else will just fall into place. But once she joins the Shakespeare Society – things start to change.
This review really has me at a loss for words. And not because I didn’t like Percer’s debut novel – I did, tremendously. Home girl can write. Honestly, her writing outshines every other aspect of the plot and characterization. Percer could write a how-to manual on ship building and I’d be all over it. I often thought that her writing talents made the story, especially character growth and development, seem weak in comparison. Does that make sense?
Many readers have commented that the first half of the story were slow and a bit hard to get through. Most preferred her college years as they seemed more lively and had more action. I’m the opposite. I loved getting to know the younger Naomi and thought her development was so beautifully realized during the first third of the novel. When she finally arrives at Wellesley, I started to lose her a bit, but maybe this distance was done on purpose as Naomi’s really grappling with coming into her own personhood which differs from her girlish ideals. Once she leaves Wellesley and we learn more about her adult life, I was right back in the story – enjoying every second.
The secondary characters and the entire Shakespeare Society sub-plot wasn’t fleshed out enough in my opinion. Hardly any of the other girls in Shakes were fully developed. I had a hard time keeping them straight as individuals which was always disappointing because they had so much potential. Jun was the only character besides Naomi that I ever cared about and at times I cared about her the most. I’d love to read a book about Jun and what happened to her after she moved back to Tokyo. I found her so fascinating. As for the Society, it wasn’t very exciting. They just performed plays and held meetings. I think I had it in my head that this was going to be some creepy, super-secret, dangerous society like The Skulls. Not so much. I can’t really fault Percer for this – just a disconnect between my own made-up expectations and the truth.
All that criticism aside (don’t be discouraged), An Uncommon Education was a tremendously accessible read and gorgeously written. I particularly loved Percer’s thematic quest through the search for identity from childhood, through college, and into adulthood. How many times we reinvent ourselves during these formative years and how far off the mark we often end up from our earliest aspirations is well-conceived in Naomi’s story. At many times, I found myself in Naomi and know that many other readers and bookish women will find themselves too.
The things I didn’t like about the novel only stem from the fact that I wanted everything to be perfect because this story was something I clung to from the very first page. Having read many similar tales of all-female prep schools and colleges, An Uncommon Education was hands-down my absolute favorite – far and above any similar plot-line I’ve ever read. Definitely worth a read! But don’t just take my word for it! Percer’s debut was named one of Amazon’s Top 10 books in May and many others on TLC’s book tour have wonderful things to say as well.
Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley. She lives in California with her husband and three children. An Uncommon Education is her first novel.
Thanks so much to Harper and TLC Book Tours for the generous copy of An Uncommon Education in return for my honest review! Check out the rest of the tour at TLC Book Tours.