Friday, May 25, 2012
Book Thoughts - An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
Synopsis from publisher:
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.
First Impression - 5/3/12
Oooh, I am hooked on this novel from the very first paragraph - and as I read farther in, I just get more hooked. Naomi is smart and a bit weird, without many friends, which is a feeling I remember well from being a kid. Her father's earnest efforts to educate her are endearing, and her mother's distance makes me wonder what went wrong. I like Percer's style - I definitely want to know where she is headed.
"I suppose it was one of many talismans, real and imagined, I began collecting around that age to help me believe that what I told myself just might be true. Perhaps the strongest of these convictions, and the one it took the longest to let go of, was that believing that I needed to save those I loved from harm also meant that I could." (p.3)
Second Thoughts - 5/16/12
It's quite interesting how far into the novel Percer takes her readers before Naomi arrives at Wellesley. Part of the reason I was excited to read this book was because of my love for novels set in boarding schools/colleges/etc. Percer doesn't drop her readers immediately into the college setting, but takes time setting the stage, highlighting Naomi's younger years. It's a way to illustrate that education doesn't all take place at school - lessons are being learned in this part of her life as well.
The novel does have a decidedly blue undertone, which Naomi's shenanigans with the Shakes girls doesn't quite resolve. Percer's prose is lovely - easy to see her roots as a poet coming through on the page. I'm still enjoying this novel very much.
Last Word - 5/24/12
"It would be wrong to say that I had felt dismissed by Phyllis, though it wasn't until a few days later that I realized she had given me what I wanted: the invitation to let that encounter be an isolated one, easily buried within the rapidly developing past. I think that growing up in the shadow of my mother's containment meant that I felt pinned in by it, as though the slighest strong movement from me would cast us both, shattering, to the floor. It was almost liberating to think that it was possible to love and discard in the same, swift act." (p.218)
So many of the hardest lessons in life involve learning when to let go. Naomi certainly found much to hold on to in her years at Wellesley, but in Percer's hands it is the moments of letting go that become the most important. Those moments make the novel somewhat bittersweet, but it didn't ever feel heavy with its own weight.
I very much enjoyed this novel. Percer's characters are strong and memorable, and her writing lovely. There were a couple of scenes that I felt didn't quite serve the forward momentum of the story, but overall I savored every page. This is definitely a book I can imagine re-reading at some point - recommended!
Source: review copy from publisher
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for adult situations
My rating: 8/10