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For fans of "Prep," "Dead Poets Society," and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics "comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman's serendipitous discovery of her college's underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among "the Shakes" at Wellesley, she finally lets he For fans of "Prep," "Dead Poets Society," and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics "comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman's serendipitous discovery of her college's underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among "the Shakes" at Wellesley, she finally lets herself embrace the passionate inner self she's always kept locked away. But when a sudden scandal unfolds, she will be forced to learn the limits of the relationships that have sustained her. An intimate and enthralling narrative, Elizabeth Percer's debut novel An Uncommon Education marks the emergence of a stunning new literary talent.


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For fans of "Prep," "Dead Poets Society," and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics "comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman's serendipitous discovery of her college's underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among "the Shakes" at Wellesley, she finally lets he For fans of "Prep," "Dead Poets Society," and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics "comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman's serendipitous discovery of her college's underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among "the Shakes" at Wellesley, she finally lets herself embrace the passionate inner self she's always kept locked away. But when a sudden scandal unfolds, she will be forced to learn the limits of the relationships that have sustained her. An intimate and enthralling narrative, Elizabeth Percer's debut novel An Uncommon Education marks the emergence of a stunning new literary talent.

30 review for An Uncommon Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    karen

    ugh, i don't want to write this review. because it's not that the book is bad, it just never worked for me. there is something so cheeky and earnest about this book, but it's like an amish girl going on her rumspringa. not that she's trying to be gritty or shocking at all, but it just feels wrong, somehow, tentative, like she is trying to write dramatic irony way out of her depth without realizing it. i feel like the author is probably a really really good person. she just isn't great at writing ugh, i don't want to write this review. because it's not that the book is bad, it just never worked for me. there is something so cheeky and earnest about this book, but it's like an amish girl going on her rumspringa. not that she's trying to be gritty or shocking at all, but it just feels wrong, somehow, tentative, like she is trying to write dramatic irony way out of her depth without realizing it. i feel like the author is probably a really really good person. she just isn't great at writing characters.and i feel just awful writing a bad review for this book - it feels like slapping something sincere in the face. she knows a lot about wellesley, she did go there, after all, and that part shows, but she doesn't know how to make a reader believe in her characters. it is boring to read a character who is this emotionally cauterized, who seems to never do the things that a normal human would do in her various situations. but it doesn't seem to be a conscious choice on the part of the writer, like she is trying to explore this element of damage and retreat and decision-making as a consequence of growth or adulthood. there is no art to the writing. for example - naomi plays laertes in her production of hamlet. fine. but, the obvious choice would have been to make her hamlet, and to have her offstage life mirror that character's own difficulties with confrontation and inaction,blah blah blah. and it is totally creative writing 101 amateur hour stuff, but it would have at least given some substance to the novel. but percer never makes that potentially more rewarding comparison. naomi is not quite a hamlet who wrestles with her choices, she simply drifts into making the laziest choices possible. she has no agency at all (view spoiler)[why does she never actually try to go see teddy again?? he is just - whoosh - out of her thoughts for years and years. why doesn't she try to remove the mask from her seducer?? why doesn't she talk about the things she needs to talk about with her mother and father? she just ...waits for decisions to be made for her by the passing of time, drifting to the scene of her next conflict never taking charge of her own life (hide spoiler)] and it would be one thing if the point was that the life of the mind has profoundly negative impact on one's emotional life, but i really just don't buy her as some great genius. having a photographic memory is a fine tool, but she never has the drive a true scholar has. she is a dilettante with a wasted gift. she settles time and time again because she lacks the motivation to do anything. she comes across as wooden and unfeeling and robotic. nothing in this book meshes, nothing has any purpose, nothing seems to have consequence enough to engage the reader. nothing ties this novel together. for me. you might like it. i am putting this on my "books that claim to be just like secret history shelf, because although this book does not overtly make that claim, on the back cover it is compared to several things that are frequently compared to secret history so - transitive property, and that is why i read this book. but that is not the reason i didn't like it. i just... didn't.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This is a beautiful novel, sort of Leif Enger meets Willa Cather with a pinch of Donna Tartt's The Secret History thrown in. It's also not at all what I expected. I wanted to read it because much of the story takes place at my alma mater, Wellesley. I also love coming-of-age tales. I guess I expected something...less exquisite? It's hard to explain. Basically I expected something good, something solid, something that I would adore because of the Wellesley connection, but not something that I wou This is a beautiful novel, sort of Leif Enger meets Willa Cather with a pinch of Donna Tartt's The Secret History thrown in. It's also not at all what I expected. I wanted to read it because much of the story takes place at my alma mater, Wellesley. I also love coming-of-age tales. I guess I expected something...less exquisite? It's hard to explain. Basically I expected something good, something solid, something that I would adore because of the Wellesley connection, but not something that I would talk about endlessly to anyone who will listen (which happens maybe once every few years). In short, this lovely, evocative novel totally took me by surprise. I really love how Naomi's coming-of-age is a long and winding road, with all sorts of wrong turns and dead ends. We all have events in our lives that define us and shape who we are, but for Naomi these events come off as infinitely more indelible and profound. There is one thing involving her family, in the very beginning of the book, and then something else involving a close friend several years later. It makes perfect sense that these events make Naomi who she is - at least until she goes off to Wellesley, and then something starts to shift. She begins to define herself not in relation to the people around her, but as her own person. Not in terms of the things that have happened to her, but in terms of the choices she makes for herself. This is a magical moment in anyone's life, I think, and Elizabeth Percer so perfectly captures this process of self-realization - in the very setting I experienced it myself - that it takes my breath away. It's murky, it's confusing, it's heartbreaking and intoxicating and scary as hell. It makes no sense and it makes all the sense in the world. I also love that this is the most important thing Naomi takes away from Wellesley. Her 'education' is about 1 part academic and 9 parts everything else - yet another thing I identify with (and suspect a lot of people do). The actual story is compelling, too, of course, and delightfully written. I laughed, I cried, I paused at times, a finger absently marking my place, smiling to myself and staring at the wall and thinking of nothing and everything all at once. It's possible I'm biased and that the book means more to me than it will to the average reader who didn't come of age in the same place and in much the same way as the protagonist - but I'm more inclined to think that this truly is a bit of magic. (I'm also famously sentimental, so take this all with a grain of salt.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    A jumbled mess. I was really excited to read this book because of one descriptive sentence: 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. I was disappointed to discover that this book wasn't about a secret society at all (those books are like catnip to me), but rather a dull coming-of-age novel with no real plot, uneven pacing, an unsatisfying conclusion, A jumbled mess. I was really excited to read this book because of one descriptive sentence: 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. I was disappointed to discover that this book wasn't about a secret society at all (those books are like catnip to me), but rather a dull coming-of-age novel with no real plot, uneven pacing, an unsatisfying conclusion, and an annoying protagonist. If you enjoy navel-gazing, self-absorbed narration, you might like this. I, however, wanted dangerous rituals and secrets and classics majors killing farmers in the woods (hee). And as a side note, the author's habit of ending each chapter with a Very Important Sentence annoyed me. I've seen this device used well before, but not here. It just felt like I was being banged over the head with SYMBOLISM.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I almost never give a book so few stars, because I'm pretty good at anticipating what I'll like, and ditching anything I don't after 50 or so pages. But An Uncommon Education was a tricky little thing. I *should* have liked it, maybe even loved it. There's a tiny picture of Shakespeare on the front cover, for crying out loud, and the heroine was weird, compelling, unexpected. The story began with a fascinating and heartbreaking friendship between two outsiders and continued at a Northeastern Lib I almost never give a book so few stars, because I'm pretty good at anticipating what I'll like, and ditching anything I don't after 50 or so pages. But An Uncommon Education was a tricky little thing. I *should* have liked it, maybe even loved it. There's a tiny picture of Shakespeare on the front cover, for crying out loud, and the heroine was weird, compelling, unexpected. The story began with a fascinating and heartbreaking friendship between two outsiders and continued at a Northeastern Liberal Arts college. Sounds tailor made for me. Ms. Percer is a talented writer (and goes to great pains to show us that she is awfully, awfully clever), but this book just did not work. It read like a young girl's unedited diary, and I don't mean that in a hilarious way. The more interesting and fun parts of the story involved the youthful friendship between Naomi and her first love, a neighbor and kindred spirit. As the book and the heroine progress, things just fall apart. I don't think I'll ever hear the word "Wellesley" again without rolling my eyes, and I'm afraid I have to blame Ms. Percer for that. Not recommended, no matter how much you like smart girls, classical literature, or coming-of-age stories.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Angela Risner

    First off, I think that this writer has a lot of talent. The language that she uses and the sentence structure are all great. I just didn't like the story or the characters. We start off with Naomi Feinstein as a child, who is the apple of her father's eye. He makes an extra effort with her, as her mother suffers from depression. Her mother spends most of her time alone, as she doesn't want her moods to affect her daughter. Of course, the removal of her mother from most situations affects Naomi. N First off, I think that this writer has a lot of talent. The language that she uses and the sentence structure are all great. I just didn't like the story or the characters. We start off with Naomi Feinstein as a child, who is the apple of her father's eye. He makes an extra effort with her, as her mother suffers from depression. Her mother spends most of her time alone, as she doesn't want her moods to affect her daughter. Of course, the removal of her mother from most situations affects Naomi. Naomi and her father spend a lot of time at the historical home of Rose Kennedy. Her father admires Rose Kennedy immensely and wonders what her life might have been like had it been common then for women to obtain positions of power. He doesn't want his daughter to suffer the same fate and encourages her to realize her dream of becoming a doctor by attending Wellesley. I couldn't help but compare this book to another book about an all-girls school, Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. I didn't care for that one, either. Look, I know that teens and young adults are supposed to be angsty, but very few people in my teenage/young adult years didn't laugh and smile at least some of the time. The idea of a "secret" Shakespeare Society could have been so much more fun than it was made to be. Instead, it proves to add to the girls' intense mood swings and seems to be a darker version of any sorority than any I've known. There wasn't anyone to root for in this book other than Jun, who seems to be kind to most people, yet suffers an assassination of character against which she chooses not to fight. I understand her reasons why - her Japanese culture would not allow her to exist with honor as she truly is - but it seems as though the bad guy wins no matter what. Overall, I would skip. The storyline tries too hard to create something that just isn't there.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Book Him Danno

    An Uncommon Education is a wonderful coming of age story. 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 An Uncommon Education is a wonderful coming of age story. 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Oh! Paper Pages

    Also reviewed at Oh! Paper Pages At ALA Annual last year, I saw people with copies of An Uncommon Education, and I was saddened that I missed out on meeting Elizabeth Percer. My disappointment has vanished now that I am able to help celebrate the paperback release of this wonderful book. An Uncommon Education tracks the life of Naomi, a girl who experiences loneliness and loss so profound that she carries the mark throughout her life. When Naomi’s best friend is suddenly ripped from her life, she Also reviewed at Oh! Paper Pages At ALA Annual last year, I saw people with copies of An Uncommon Education, and I was saddened that I missed out on meeting Elizabeth Percer. My disappointment has vanished now that I am able to help celebrate the paperback release of this wonderful book. An Uncommon Education tracks the life of Naomi, a girl who experiences loneliness and loss so profound that she carries the mark throughout her life. When Naomi’s best friend is suddenly ripped from her life, she is unable to cope and her unresolved feelings follow her to university. Naomi is a wonderful narrator. She is consistent, believable, and real. I could hear her voice so strong and so loudly. As the story progressed, I could hear how her childhood nervousness transformed into careful observations. Her mature handling of situations marks Naomi’s development from childhood to adulthood, and I was astonished at certain points of the story at how she dealt with surprising revelations. The one character that held my attention was Teddy. Though we spend quite a bit of time with him at the beginning of the story, he hangs on every page like a reluctant cloud. His relationship with Naomi is extraordinary, and their love for each other is so meaningful that it has become one of the love stories that I will treasure the most. They spun around each other like twin flames. Too seldom are people fortunate enough to find someone who loves unconditionally and deeply. What Elizabeth did with Teddy and Naomi is incredible. She did not trivialize young love. She gave it power and meaning. Elizabeth Percer held my heart in her hands and gently squeezed it throughout the story. I am the type of reader who will experience events right alongside the characters. They become my friends, and I love and cherish them. With Teddy, I felt so dreadfully sad. His story unfolds slowly – like a child unwrapping a treasured present – and it is so beautifully written that I felt hopeless and lost. How amazing that a writer can convey a story so exquisitely while simultaneously evaporating cheerfulness in the world. It is apparent that Elizabeth has a talent of tenderly describing events and unpacking them to show readers how her characters end up. I was riveted, and I will automatically buy any book that Elizabeth writes. She is a talented writer, and I am certain that she will receive great admiration for her work. I highly recommend An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer. It is a lovely story and the writing is perfect. Simply perfect.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Things I loathed about this book: 1. The plot ranges from nonexistent to stupid. When I finished the book, my only reaction was "what exactly was the point of that?" 2. On almost every page I wanted to yell "no one would ever do that" and/or "no one would ever talk like that (ESPECIALLY a college student)." Suspension of disbelief = not achieved. 3. The writing is cringeworthy, like when an author thinks she's saying something REALLY insightful, so it's kind of sneaky, and you're like, oh, maybe th Things I loathed about this book: 1. The plot ranges from nonexistent to stupid. When I finished the book, my only reaction was "what exactly was the point of that?" 2. On almost every page I wanted to yell "no one would ever do that" and/or "no one would ever talk like that (ESPECIALLY a college student)." Suspension of disbelief = not achieved. 3. The writing is cringeworthy, like when an author thinks she's saying something REALLY insightful, so it's kind of sneaky, and you're like, oh, maybe this is good writing, but then 30 seconds later you're like, most of these words are cliches and the rest of them don't mean anything. 4. The characters are so poorly drawn that their motivations are impossible to understand because they are unrecognizable as actual human beings. I could go on but I'll save it for book club. I wish I could get back the week of my life that I spent reading this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    When TLC Book Tours gives me a good adult lit-fic book, they give me a good one. Maybe it's because I don't read much in the genre, but I so appreciated and needed the story that Percer presented in these pages. It wasn't too pretentious despite the high-end college setting, the very intelligent heroine who narrates starting at a young age feeling like a friend rather than an alien. Thinking of this book makes me think of good words: quiet, peaceful, meaningful, and subtle. It's the kind of stor When TLC Book Tours gives me a good adult lit-fic book, they give me a good one. Maybe it's because I don't read much in the genre, but I so appreciated and needed the story that Percer presented in these pages. It wasn't too pretentious despite the high-end college setting, the very intelligent heroine who narrates starting at a young age feeling like a friend rather than an alien. Thinking of this book makes me think of good words: quiet, peaceful, meaningful, and subtle. It's the kind of story that I could not put down because it was so full of life, so full of little observations that you would not appreciate if you were looking for something that was masquerading as something more serious, more complex. An Uncommon Education is complex because it takes life's simplicity and meshes it well with the issues, the troubles. There's just enough here to really and truly savor the story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alicen

    This is a wonderfully written book about what it means to grow up and find yourself, despite how hard and non-linear and unexpected that process can be. This book is also the first one I've ever read about a place and time that I actually experienced as the author is a fellow Shakespeare Society member from Wellesley College who overlapped for one year with me. This made the book even more enjoyable for me to read as it instantly brought me back to that time in my life which - much like the book This is a wonderfully written book about what it means to grow up and find yourself, despite how hard and non-linear and unexpected that process can be. This book is also the first one I've ever read about a place and time that I actually experienced as the author is a fellow Shakespeare Society member from Wellesley College who overlapped for one year with me. This made the book even more enjoyable for me to read as it instantly brought me back to that time in my life which - much like the book - was full of new experiences and friendships and drama (both on and off the stage!). Elizabeth clearly has gift in capturing the emotions of her characters and allowing us to feel them as well and as such I highly recommend her book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Octavia

    Boy, was this a hard book to get through. I decided at about 40% I had to power through and finish it. I couldn't stand the narrator Naomi. Her child observations were laughable. Even though she was supposed to be some kind of genius, no kid would ever have the thoughts she had. Furthermore, from child to young adult to adult she changed very little. She was so shy it seemed she didn't even talk to her friends yet she was in plays? Her growth as a character was so stagnic I felt the need to try Boy, was this a hard book to get through. I decided at about 40% I had to power through and finish it. I couldn't stand the narrator Naomi. Her child observations were laughable. Even though she was supposed to be some kind of genius, no kid would ever have the thoughts she had. Furthermore, from child to young adult to adult she changed very little. She was so shy it seemed she didn't even talk to her friends yet she was in plays? Her growth as a character was so stagnic I felt the need to try and dig deeper but at the end of the day, there was not much there. The few good characters that made their way through the book were left half developed and ultimately in the end, I felt, abandoned completely. Way too much reflection and very little plot.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stacey Lozano

    I adored this book and the characters. I enjoyed the story of her learning more about herself and the life she lived in with all it's complexities and chaos. I loved the way it was written as well. It's a story about Naomi, and I think it's more than just a "coming of age" book as many have suggested. While we do watch Naomi grow up, I think the complexities allow us to see life on a bigger picture. It wasn't that I ever sympathized with Naomi, but it was more like I simply understood her.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Boler

    She Could Fly An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer (Harper; 342 pages; $24.99). Coming of age novels are so popular as of late. They are everywhere. Just within the last few months, I have read Jennifer Miller's The Year of the Gadfly, Morgan Callan Rogers's Ruby Red Heart in a Deep Blue Sea, Amber Dermont's The Starboard Sea, and others. The new novel An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer can now take its place beside these favorites. In some ways, Percer's book stands head and shoulder She Could Fly An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer (Harper; 342 pages; $24.99). Coming of age novels are so popular as of late. They are everywhere. Just within the last few months, I have read Jennifer Miller's The Year of the Gadfly, Morgan Callan Rogers's Ruby Red Heart in a Deep Blue Sea, Amber Dermont's The Starboard Sea, and others. The new novel An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer can now take its place beside these favorites. In some ways, Percer's book stands head and shoulders above the others. I think it all has to do with the main character. In this case, her name is Naomi, and she is a rare breed indeed. One phrase Percer repeats throughout this novel is "she could fly." No, Naomi cannot literally fly. "She could fly" is a metaphor and refers to how this tale allows both Naomi and Percer to soar. Although she cannot fly, there is something interesting that Naomi can do instead: she just might save your life. Perhaps it is Naomi's uncommon education that compels her into believing she can save those around her. But the first thing she saves is not a person, but an object. Maybe "steals" is the better word. Naomi's father, Sol, holds Rose Kennedy in the highest esteem. He may even have a crush on her. As Naomi explains, "My father developed heroic crushes, as my mother called them, where he'd dwell on a person from history exhaustively, or for however long we'd listen to him." Sol, though, takes "special care to nurse" his attraction to Rose. Naomi is uncertain "if his adoration was pure or a front for talking about her as a role model." Sol has an underlying motive for building up Rose Kennedy to his daughter. He wants Naomi to have the best education she can have. For him, that means Wellesley College. Of Rose Kennedy, Sol muses, "'Now there is an example of a woman with untold potential.'" Rose was the "matriarch of a nation," even after her own "early dreams had been squelched." Rose wanted to attend Wellesley, but her father, the famous John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald put a stop to any such notions. His political aspirations did not allow "his Catholic daughter entering a progressive college during an election year." And that was that. Instead of becoming "uncommon" herself, Rose would have to settle for being a wife and mother. Naomi and her father are frequent visitors to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site near their home in Boston. She finds a letter written by Rosemary to her father in 1939 one day. Accompanying the letter is a signed and inscribed photograph of Amelia Earhart to Rosemary. On the back, in the middle of the photo, Rosemary wrote" "She could fly." Because she feels the urge to save this memento, Naomi takes it. On this same visit, her father suffers a heart attack. As Naomi waits for the paramedics to arrive, she frantically makes promises and bargains. She thinks of ways to "lure him back, of how badly he wanted to see" her "become something he had never been." Naomi also thinks of Rose and promises to live her life with no regrets, although she does not understand what that means. She is only nine, after all. The experience with her father makes Naomi want to be a surgeon. She knows she wants to save lives. On her father's heart attack, she thinks: "And I thought, maybe, that there was a way I could have stopped it. That maybe there was a way I could learn to stop such things." Her desire grows stronger over time and stays with Naomi as she grows up. In one of the strongest parts of the novel, Naomi becomes inseparable from the boy next door, Teddy. Neither child makes friends easily, and their bond is seemingly unbreakable until tragedy strikes. Percer writes some heart-wrenching scenes here, especially when Naomi realizes how difficult it can be sometimes to save someone you love, no matter how much you might want to. I actually hated to see Naomi grow up; the reader, in a sense, grows up with Naomi, too. My fear was that this coming of age story would fall apart once Naomi got older. Percer's tale does not break down, but it does change. Just as Rose Kennedy and Sol dreamed, Naomi gets accepted to Wellesley. There is a definite lag in the story here. The decline was so steep I cringed. However, Percer reclaims the novel's early promise when Naomi begins her sophomore year at Wellesley. During that time, Naomi sees a fellow student fall into the frigid, freezing waters of a lake on campus. She risks her life to aid the young woman. By then, she has "gotten into quite the habit of saving people." The rescued student and her friend introduce Naomi to the school's Shakespeare Society. Percer's Shakespearean club lacks mystery, although it is clandestine. There are no life-threatening or earth-shattering initiation rites or club rituals. Percer's decision not to portray the group in those ways was quite refreshing actually. Some things do not require great mysteries. Since Teddy's withdrawal from her life, Naomi has had no friends. But that changes with her membership in the Shakespeare Society. She finally makes real, lasting friendships with other young women who have bright futures ahead of them. Naomi's bonds with these women prompt her to save them, too, whether from things that endanger their lives or from outside forces that jeopardize their futures. Naomi does not care what the threats are; she only has a kind of tunnel vision where those closest to her are concerned. If they are in trouble, Naomi will save them. However, there are some perils even Naomi is powerless to thwart. She comes face to face with this fact when her mother becomes ill. This realization is difficult for Naomi to accept. Yet, she must; Naomi cannot save everyone. But, "…by not allowing herself to be saved," her mother saves Naomi. Naomi finally comes of age in this moment. Sometimes being an adult is knowing you cannot save everyone. Percer's tale is an unforgettable one, all because of Naomi. She is the glue that holds together this uncommon, graceful, and elegiac story.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liz VanDerwerken

    I found some passages and some of the characters so enchanting, and yet, overall, this novel felt very scattered and unfocused. I was often confused about where the plot was leading and the unrelated series of random events. I generally feel that novels should be more focused and plot-driven, or at least have some kind of narrative arc or structure which is manifest in the character development, if nothing else. Throughout, I was never sure what to pay the most attention to, because the focus ke I found some passages and some of the characters so enchanting, and yet, overall, this novel felt very scattered and unfocused. I was often confused about where the plot was leading and the unrelated series of random events. I generally feel that novels should be more focused and plot-driven, or at least have some kind of narrative arc or structure which is manifest in the character development, if nothing else. Throughout, I was never sure what to pay the most attention to, because the focus kept shifting, often so erratically that I couldn’t follow the transition. The end was particularly abrupt and jarring; I kept wondering if I had missed some pages, but no. When I first started reading, I kept reading because I truly did find some lovely thoughts and expressions, but overall this didn’t deliver for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Heller

    Picking up this book I wasn't entirely sure I would like it. Reading the description, the plot seemed entirely up my alley, but after it had been out for a few weeks and the reviews started coming in I grew a little bit skeptical. They weren't that great. Many of them expressed distaste in the lead character, the depiction of Wellesley College, and even the pacing of the story. Still, I put it on my wish list on PaperbackSwap and when it arrived in the mail I picked it up right away. Naomi Feinst Picking up this book I wasn't entirely sure I would like it. Reading the description, the plot seemed entirely up my alley, but after it had been out for a few weeks and the reviews started coming in I grew a little bit skeptical. They weren't that great. Many of them expressed distaste in the lead character, the depiction of Wellesley College, and even the pacing of the story. Still, I put it on my wish list on PaperbackSwap and when it arrived in the mail I picked it up right away. Naomi Feinstein has always lived sort of a quiet life. Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts with exactly one short lived friend and a photographic memory Naomi has always dedicated herself to her studies and big ambitions to become a cardiac surgeon after her father suffered a heart attack when she was nine years old. But when Naomi achieves the place at Wellesley College that she's always desired and joins the somewhat rambunctious and semi-mysterious Shakespeare Society she finds herself in a whole new world. Suddenly with, not only friends but, good friends and something besides books to divert her attention her grades begin to drop and she starts being able to question what it is that she really wants in life. I agree that the narrative did drag a bit in the beginning. Focusing on Naomi's adolescence, we get her father's relative obsession with the Kennedy Birthplace several blocks over, his heart attack and Naomi's reaction to it, her friendship with Teddy, and the beginnings of her understanding her mother's depression. All of these things were crucial to understanding Naomi as a young adult. However, they were not always the most compelling. For me it was really once Naomi entered college and joined the Shakespeare Society that I started to get fascinated. And I was. This book was filled with rich characters that seemed very real, some of which because they felt familiar but others because they were very well written. In fact, I thought this whole book was very well written, some passages leaving me down right impressed. But let's get something straight. This is not a novel about secret societies, it's not a mystery, and it's not the sort of story where big things happen. This is a coming of age story about a girl who has always struggled with everyone else's view of her set against how she views herself. The most exciting thing that happens in this novel is a girl finding herself. For me, that's enough. But as I was scrolling through the reviews by other Goodreads users I kept seeing those who were disappointed because this book wasn't what they expected it to be. I believe that does the book a disservice and I would rather readers go into a book with their eyes open. Another thing that this book is not is Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', though I put it on my we-really-want-to-be-secret-history shelf. The feel of this book was similar to Tartt and both novels take place on college campuses, but the similarities end there. But all the things that this book is not don't take away from what it is; a quiet pleasure to read with some really good characters.

  16. 4 out of 5

    MB Shakespeare

    Fave quote: "It can be dangerous to look forward too much, to think always of what should be instead of accepting what is. …had always been trying to save her, and that by not allowing herself to be saved she had probably saved me."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    I liked this book because it was a different perspective on a fairly common coming-of-age story. I've encountered lots of boys only schools with private elite societies (and their bacchanalian parties), but I have yet to read one about girls. The writing was generally good and there were some real moments; however I was not convinced by Naomi's motivations. I found her character to be less than believable at times. Most importantly, I did not understand Naomi's devotion to her mother. Her father I liked this book because it was a different perspective on a fairly common coming-of-age story. I've encountered lots of boys only schools with private elite societies (and their bacchanalian parties), but I have yet to read one about girls. The writing was generally good and there were some real moments; however I was not convinced by Naomi's motivations. I found her character to be less than believable at times. Most importantly, I did not understand Naomi's devotion to her mother. Her father is the one who takes care of her and forms her, but she is obsessed with trying to save (and care for) her mother. The depressed woman who withholds not only emotion but all information and love is the one to whom Naomi is devoted. She decides to be a cardiologist after her father's heart attack and Teddy's father's death; but ultimately she can only find the motivation to care for and then study her mother's disease. This really felt like a stretch. I felt like Percer just really wanted to create a parallel between the ridiculous father/son relationships that we typically see in these sorts of coming of age books (rebellious son or the son who is trying his hardest to impress the unimpressable father) and Naomi and her mother. It was just that the whole relationship felt under-developed. I did not believe that Naomi could or should care so much about her mother. Simultaneously, Jun and her father were an almost perfect representation of the father/son roll. I liked the way that Percer developed these two and Jun's understanding of her lack of importance as an individual (she was just a cog in the machine of Oko Industries). I thought the stolen historical stuff was a bit much and unnecessary. Certainly there is the a parallel between the thefts (important and life changing events for Naomi: her father's heart attack and her first night with Jun are marked by these items) and the way that each are discovered in the end by their real owners, but I thought it was way too unbelievable that the museum curator ended up having given the docs to Naomi. I wasn't sure about the character names; I thought all the symbolism was a bit overdone and that the names were all outdated (Naomi, Ruth, Phyllis). Overall it was an interesting point of view (and one I have not seen done from a girl's perspective), but it was not very compelling and I felt like some of the plot fell flat. A few good quotes below: "It can be dangerous to look forward too much, to think always of what should be instead of accepting what is." "So much of schoolwork is designed to please both the student and the teacher, a way for lovers whose shared passion is knowledge to exchange promises. But either party will grow nervous if the other is inattentive." "I read once that men are the only ones who ever really fall in love. That women don't. That they only love to be loved."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Crystal ✬ Lost in Storyland

    Interview with Elizabeth Percer on Uncommon Education at my blog Imaginary Reads Review: An Uncommon Education is a coming-of-age story that follows Naomi from early childhood to her adult years. Over the years, Naomi learns things about her family that she wonder might have been better left alone, she finds love in different people and in different forms, and she comes to terms with who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Naomi is a gifted child with a photographic memory. An ambitious Interview with Elizabeth Percer on Uncommon Education at my blog Imaginary Reads Review: An Uncommon Education is a coming-of-age story that follows Naomi from early childhood to her adult years. Over the years, Naomi learns things about her family that she wonder might have been better left alone, she finds love in different people and in different forms, and she comes to terms with who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Naomi is a gifted child with a photographic memory. An ambitious child, she isn't satisfied with passing the days in blissful ignorance. She asks questions, hard questions for adults to answer given her young age. At the same time that her talent allows her to read and remember texts beyond her level, however, it isolates her from those around her, beliving her cursed or possessed. From childhood through college, she makes few true friends, and even then they all have their own secrets and she must watch those she care about leave her. She runs to leave her problems behind her, and she even finds some comfort in studying during her first year at Wellesley. Life moves on though, and she must learn to confront her deepest fears. The story is told in five parts, which I found interesting because of the significant role that the Shakespeare Society has on Naomi's life. There, she is able to free herself of the many burdens that she's placed on herself, giving her the freedom and space necessary to explore who she is as an individual and not who she thinks she must be. She makes friends that stay around through her college years and even into her adult life, she learns how to love and move on, and she learns about betrayal. I always wondered, growing up, about my mom's words that the college years would be the best years of my life. Was she right or wrong? I know believe that it is worth the experience. Even more than during the adolescent years, the college years are about discovering what we truly want in life, and it is when we really find our self identity. Away from her parents, Naomi is alone and cannot continue to let anyone else other than herself define her if she wants to survive. And it is at Wellesley that she breaks free of her limitations and finds her own form of happiness. I love this book and recommend it for readers looking for New Adult books, especially readers that lean towards more literary works. -- For more of my reviews, visit my blog Imaginary Reads.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alisha Marie

    Most people who don't love An Uncommon Education say that the book was slow to start and that the first half dragged. I seemed to have the opposite reaction. I thought that An Uncommon Education was amazing and compelling at the beginning, yet seemed to meander along throughout the last half. It's just that learning about Naomi's life was great at first, but after a while, I noticed, that there wasn't much going on in her life that could have kept me engaged throughout the whole novel. I loved re Most people who don't love An Uncommon Education say that the book was slow to start and that the first half dragged. I seemed to have the opposite reaction. I thought that An Uncommon Education was amazing and compelling at the beginning, yet seemed to meander along throughout the last half. It's just that learning about Naomi's life was great at first, but after a while, I noticed, that there wasn't much going on in her life that could have kept me engaged throughout the whole novel. I loved reading about Naomi's goals and ambitions and related to her immensely. So, I loved reading about all her (and her father's) aspirations to get into Wellesley. However, once she got there, she didn't do much. At first I thought, "Okay, well once she gets into the Shakes clearly that's going to change and the book is going to get as engaging as it was in the beginning." Well, that didn't happen. Not much happened once Naomi was in the Shakes or at least nothing too interesting. There was just so very little plot in this book. Don't get me wrong, I love character development and coming-of-age novels (I'm a YA fan extraordinare). I just felt like Naomi changed, which I didn't have a problem with, people change when they go to college, that's normal. While I didn't have a problem with her change, I just felt like there was very little cause for it. One minute, she was who she was at the beginning, the next she did a bit of a 180, but there weren't enough events that happened to back that change up. So, I thought that An Uncommon Education was just an okay novel. The beginning was superb and engaging, but towards the end it just lost it's footing. The book as a whole was magnificently written, but I just expected from it. I felt a bit let down at the 'blah' ending and I wanted to know more about the Shakes, which seemed to be the only interesting thing that happened after Naomi left for college. If you want to read An Uncommon Education, I'd suggest maybe check it out from the library.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julie G

    The story of a young woman who comes of age with an acute fear of losing her parents (the first half of the book give or take) and then joins a secret society of Shakespeare enthusiasts at Wellesley, only to become embroiled in a scandal (it's a secret society, what else is to be expected?). Basically it's a coming of age story about a very relatable and intriguing young woman as she grows into herself. Writing I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, particularly for a debut. I think in any book aspirin The story of a young woman who comes of age with an acute fear of losing her parents (the first half of the book give or take) and then joins a secret society of Shakespeare enthusiasts at Wellesley, only to become embroiled in a scandal (it's a secret society, what else is to be expected?). Basically it's a coming of age story about a very relatable and intriguing young woman as she grows into herself. Writing I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, particularly for a debut. I think in any book aspiring to literary fiction, especially a first book, a bit of self-importance is going to exist and that is true in this book. However, I didn't find many of the problems in it that I typically see in "wanna-be" literary fiction. I think the author certainly has what it takes to walk that narrow line between women's fiction and literary fiction that is so difficult to describe and possibly has what it takes to break into literary fiction. Entertainment Value I also thoroughly enjoyed the story. I loved Naomi's character and I found her compelling and intriguing as well as immensely believable. I do not think the book does itself a favor by highlighting the secret Shakespeare society aspect of the story. I found it to be much more in line with a typical coming of age at a prestigious university/boarding school novel than a scandalous secret society book, although that aspect does play out in the plot. I much more favor the comparisons to Prep and The Dead Poet's Society than I do comparisons to The Secret History. Overall I recommend it. It's not a fast-paced story and the reader shouldn't go in expecting a secret society thriller. But I do think the author manages to avoid the "standard fare" problems that I think frequently plague books that attempt to combine or sit the fence on the literary fiction/women's fiction border. So many of those books read exactly the same to me, but this one stands out because of the main character. Thank you to TLC and the author and publisher for sending me a copy to review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Evelyne

    Overall a pretty solid novel written by a fellow Wellesley alumna. Three aspects of the novel struck me most: 1) The juxtaposition between the inward reality versus the outward portrayal of Wellesley (and most likely other institutions with prestigious reputations). About a week before starting at Wellesley, an upperclasswoman told me that the day-to-day reality of the school would be vastly different from the facade presented to the rest of the world. I found this to be true--not in a negative w Overall a pretty solid novel written by a fellow Wellesley alumna. Three aspects of the novel struck me most: 1) The juxtaposition between the inward reality versus the outward portrayal of Wellesley (and most likely other institutions with prestigious reputations). About a week before starting at Wellesley, an upperclasswoman told me that the day-to-day reality of the school would be vastly different from the facade presented to the rest of the world. I found this to be true--not in a negative way at all, but in a way eerily similar to the way Naomi describes Wellesley in the book. Wellesley and a number of prestigious institutions can be compared to a Georgetown frat-house. The exterior is a beautiful, stately brownstone, while inside the floors are sticky with beer and the dishes haven't been washed in weeks--except replace the sticky floors and dirty dishes with bad food and mounds of classwork and projects. Percer brings this rarely talked about reality to the forefront, which can be uncomfortable since as an alumna you want to step outside a little and only remember the brownstone facade. 2) The way Percer approaches depression and other mental illnesses. Her balanced depiction of Naomi's feelings on living with a severely depressed mother is impressive. She does a good job of describing Naomi's love for he mother mixed with her frustration at her mother's inapproachability. Beyond that, I was really impressed with Naomi's ability to love her mother despite the deficiencies imposed by her illness. 3) As cliche as it may sound, Naomi's "journey of self-discovery" is a very accurate and realistic portrayal of what countless numbers of college students go through. I admire the fact that Percer doesn't gloss over the insecurities and self-doubt that comes along with figuring out one's place in the world. Full disclosure: I had the opportunity to actually meet with Ms. Percer--she's pretty awesome.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Given that this book is set in Brookline (partly at JFK's birthplace, no less!) and at Wellesley College, and given that it was written by a Wellesley alumna to boot, I was so excited to read it. Perhaps because of this initial excitement and investment (but perhaps not), I could not have been more disappointed by the time I finished it. The prose was clunky and overwrought, sometimes to the point of being totally meaningless. The plot was at times predictable and at times completely ludicrous - Given that this book is set in Brookline (partly at JFK's birthplace, no less!) and at Wellesley College, and given that it was written by a Wellesley alumna to boot, I was so excited to read it. Perhaps because of this initial excitement and investment (but perhaps not), I could not have been more disappointed by the time I finished it. The prose was clunky and overwrought, sometimes to the point of being totally meaningless. The plot was at times predictable and at times completely ludicrous -- and I know that sounds like a difficult thing to achieve, but somehow this author managed to do it. Perhaps worst of all, all of the characters were entirely unlikeable, particularly the protagonist. She wasn't even the type of character who you mostly dislike but has some redeeming qualities about her -- she was just so self-pitying all the time for no apparent reason, and so loathsome as a result. Moreover, the depiction of certain racial/religious minorities and people with clinical depression also made me very uncomfortable at times. I don't know if there was supposed to be some ironic filter through which we as readers were supposed to see the narrator's very problematic views of other people, but I didn't get that impression. If I had read this book before attending Wellesley, it would have made me never want to go there -- the students it depicts are so unlike the people I knew when I was there. I realize that it's a work of fiction, but it read like a novel written by someone who didn't actually attend Wellesley and just based her ideas about its students on the worst stereotypes that circulate about women who attend women's colleges. This is easily the most negative review of a book I've ever written on here, but I really needed to vent about how frustrating I found the experience of reading this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Brody

    Naomi is a lonely child, the daughter of a father with a heart condition and a mother with serious depression. She has no friends at school and her sole goal academically is to do well and 'win'. She has a dream of attending Wellesley College and becoming a cardiac surgeon. A boy her age, Teddy, moves in next door and Naomi and he become fast and close friends. He is the adopted son of a Hasidic family and Teddy's mother does not like Naomi. She goes to extreme lengths to get Teddy's mother to l Naomi is a lonely child, the daughter of a father with a heart condition and a mother with serious depression. She has no friends at school and her sole goal academically is to do well and 'win'. She has a dream of attending Wellesley College and becoming a cardiac surgeon. A boy her age, Teddy, moves in next door and Naomi and he become fast and close friends. He is the adopted son of a Hasidic family and Teddy's mother does not like Naomi. She goes to extreme lengths to get Teddy's mother to like her but to no avail. For several years she and Teddy remain close but after the death of Teddy's father, the family moves away suddenly and almost all contact with Teddy is lost. This is devastating for Naomi. Naomi gets into Wellesley where she remains lonely until one day when she sees a young woman fall into a frozen lake and helps to save her. The woman and her friend are members of 'Shakes', a Shakespearian society and Naomi ends up joining. It is here that she finds her self and her way. The book is about Naomi's life and the choices she makes as she learns to become her own person. I found myself fairly bored through the entire first half of the book and it was a real struggle to continue. A lot of the book could have been edited out and made more concise. Naomi's life is just not that interesting and a lot of the book is repetitive.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Okay...again, I was completely predisposed to like this book. Wellesley heroine, Wellesley alum, this one even set at Wellesley. ya, ya, I am a sucker. But here's the problem. There's no there there for me. Completely unlikeable heroine. A Wellesley I don't recognize (unfriendly, mean students). I found it falling into stereotypes of the college (okay no one but an alum would see this) about lesbians everywhere especially in the arts groups, competitive to the hilt females, and daughters who cann Okay...again, I was completely predisposed to like this book. Wellesley heroine, Wellesley alum, this one even set at Wellesley. ya, ya, I am a sucker. But here's the problem. There's no there there for me. Completely unlikeable heroine. A Wellesley I don't recognize (unfriendly, mean students). I found it falling into stereotypes of the college (okay no one but an alum would see this) about lesbians everywhere especially in the arts groups, competitive to the hilt females, and daughters who cannot please their fathers. Sorry, don't buy it. And I went to Wellesley shortly before the author's period (1995). Also, hello, all juniors and seniors get singles, you don't request them. Weird. Okay, Wellesley issues aside (are they ever really aside for me?), I just never got pulled into this book. An early friend of the heroine has mental health issues, disappears than reappears, the mom is sick, the dad is one-dimensional and the best friend is just not likeable either. I liked the writing. Didn't love the story--never held together for me. Didn't care what happened to the heroine in the end....

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Percer has reminded me that I can enjoy good writing even when the novel isn't all that interesting (to me). If this hadn't been a library book, I would have underlined passages for the sheer beauty of a well-constructed sentence or a thought expressed like pure poetry. For example(s): "The first phase of his life was so marked by trauma he was able to detach it almost completely from his later realities; his pain a faulty limb that had been cleanly removed, only to be remembered as a phantom sens Percer has reminded me that I can enjoy good writing even when the novel isn't all that interesting (to me). If this hadn't been a library book, I would have underlined passages for the sheer beauty of a well-constructed sentence or a thought expressed like pure poetry. For example(s): "The first phase of his life was so marked by trauma he was able to detach it almost completely from his later realities; his pain a faulty limb that had been cleanly removed, only to be remembered as a phantom sensation." (page 6) "...tradition had raised her, and raised her well, and it would put her in a solid grave" (page 240) Percer writes so well, in fact, that I will read whatever she has published next. Sometimes reading for the words rather than the story can be just as satisfying.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Received as an eARC via the publisher. There are parts of this book that are very good and compelling. Unfortunately, they happen much later in the book. I was very uninterested in Naomi's story for about the first 120 pages - I couldn't connect her father's obsession with Rose Kennedy/the Rose Kennedy house, her father's heart attack, her friendship/first love with the neighbor boy, her mother's depression, etc. Naomi also has a photographic memory (?) just to give it that extra quirk. Once the s Received as an eARC via the publisher. There are parts of this book that are very good and compelling. Unfortunately, they happen much later in the book. I was very uninterested in Naomi's story for about the first 120 pages - I couldn't connect her father's obsession with Rose Kennedy/the Rose Kennedy house, her father's heart attack, her friendship/first love with the neighbor boy, her mother's depression, etc. Naomi also has a photographic memory (?) just to give it that extra quirk. Once the story moves to Naomi's years at Wellesley the plotting of the novel is better although some aspects of the campus life seemed rather cliched, for lack of a better word.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marguerite

    This is such an amazing book. The characters are haunting, as is the prose. It stays with you long after you put it down and I found myself highlighting and dog-earing pages to remember phrases and lines. I don't often do that these days, so it is a treat to read a page-turning story that also makes me stop and think about my own life and soul. And I found myself so tied into each of the main characters, it was hard to put down. It's like a beautifully gift-wrapped package that you slowly uncove This is such an amazing book. The characters are haunting, as is the prose. It stays with you long after you put it down and I found myself highlighting and dog-earing pages to remember phrases and lines. I don't often do that these days, so it is a treat to read a page-turning story that also makes me stop and think about my own life and soul. And I found myself so tied into each of the main characters, it was hard to put down. It's like a beautifully gift-wrapped package that you slowly uncover to reveal a timeless gift you will cherish always. Fabulous.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I have to admit, a portion of my like for this book is based on the fact that it truthfully depicts the Wellesley I remember and brings back all the emotions I had while there. It's also possible that I felt the limited character development of Naomi translated well to women I knew at Wellesley. The story resonated for me, and i'll admit that my nostalgia may have convinced me of the greatness of this novel...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Lovely and challenging. This book explores themes of loss, loneliness, self-determination, and self-actualization, raising questions without easy answers. It's intelligent, painful and beautiful. If you're looking for a simplistic coming-of-age story with a straightforward protagonist then you might be disappointed, but if you're interested in a more complete portrait of a more realistic, and therefore far more complex, woman, I recommend this highly.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    I read only a few pages of this, and the writing style was not to my taste.

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