Release Date: May 1, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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.
My Thoughts: In this compelling and poignant coming-of-age novel, Naomi is raised by loving parents who had traumatic and painful childhoods. Her father almost completely detached himself from those years, distancing himself from debilitating, bleak memories to protect himself. Naomi’s mother, on the other hand, was unable to forget, living with the pain day after day. She protects herself by refusing to talk about the painful memories of things that happened when she was growing up. Naomi, as a result, knows very little about her parents past life or their families.
Naomi is a serious little girl, intelligent and older than her years. She’s extremely close to her father. They spend a lot of time together while her mother remains in her darkened bedroom, behind closed doors, most days. Their favorite past-time is visiting the John F. Kennedy National Historic site, the home where the former president was born and raised. Naomi’s father delighted in teaching her as much as he could about the world, supplementing his stories with educational coloring books. Naomi relied on her father’s attention and reveled pleasing him. Naomi questions her mother and the cardiologist incessantly about the heart and bypass surgery after her father has a sudden heart attack when Naomi is 9. She feels a responsibility to care for and protect her father and mother from harm and announces her intention, to be a cardiologist, to her father. His beaming smile is all the encouragement Naomi needs to bury her nose in her books.
The protagonist, Naomi, is also the narrator of An Uncommon Education and an extremely effective and sympathetic one. Elizabeth. Percer’s decision for Naomi to narrate, from a first-person point of view, was brilliant because a close and personal relationship is created between the reader and Naomi. As she tells us her story, revealing the person she is: characteristics, good qualities, flaws, hopes, fears, weaknesses and strengths, Naomi makes herself vulnerabl. She creates an intimate connection with her readers that may also make some feel responsible towards and protective of Naomi and, therefore, further invested in this book.. I felt like I knew Naomi personally and, as the story progressed, I grew to love her. I felt like I understood her most of the time and, when I didn‘t, I trusted her. Naomi brought tears to my eyes when she revealed how lonely she was and how badly she wanted a friend.
Naomi isn’t a care-free, light-hearted child. She knows more about life and its struggles than most of her classmates. She’s mature but also confused and uncertain about how to make friends and what to do if and when she has one. She knows with the intuitiveness of children, that she shouldn’t invite anyone to the house. Her mother doesn’t like to have visitors, children or otherwise. Naomi also has an incredible memory. She remembers everything she reads. She doesn’t understand that this is a gift. She’s confused and ashamed by her memory, so much so she keeps it a secret even from her father. An incident at school involving her memory abilities results in Naomi being ostracized at school for ‘knowing too much’ further isolated and lonely.
Naomi’s loneliness comes to an end when Teddy, Theodore Rosenthal, moves into the house behind Naomi. The same age, Teddy is as lonely as Naomi. There’s a connection between them and they become fast friends. Naomi experiences joy like never before. She also learns that nothings is without its problems. Teddy’s mother, a conservative Jewish woman doesn’t like Naomi partly because her mother converted to Judaism. Fortunately Mrs. Rosenthal deeply loves her son, the kind of love Naomi longs for from her mother, and she knows Teddy needs and wants Naomi. Teddy brings great happiness to Naomi’s life. He was also bring extreme heartache and pain. By the time Naomi begins high school Teddy is gone and Naomi is distraught. Lonely and friendless once again, she begins playing tennis at her father’s encouragement and focuses on her school work.
Naomi set her sites on Wellesley long ago. It’s the college Rose Kennedy, the woman her father admires above all, says she would have attended had she gone to college. Naomi is accepted into their pre-med program. She anticipates meeting a lot of women, making friends and enjoying a new experience. It doesn’t work out quite as Naomi hoped. She finds her first year difficult socially. She doesn’t feel as if she fits in at Wellesley but she also doesn’t feel comfortable at home anymore. It’s as if her parents have a life private from her now and she’s an outsider. At some point, a student tells Naomi that first year is rough but her second year will be much better. Naomi studies hard, works at a medical internship and waits for things to improve.
Naomi’s second year at Wellesley brings many changes to her life. She meets many women, makes friends, joins The Shakespeare Society, studies less and questions if there’s more to life than pre-med. Her father doesn’t know what to make of Naomi and they’re awkward in each other’s presence. Naomi is growing up, trying to figure out her life and what she wants from it. She’s experiencing many new things at once and doesn’t quite know what she wants. And there are more changes coming.
I could write many more pages about this book but I’m going to stop here and advise you to read this amazing, absorbing novel. It’s a well-written, realistic story about one young woman’s journey to adulthood. Ms. Percer understands the difficulties as well as the joys of growing up and adeptly portrays this through an intriguing and captivating protagonist. Naomi, like so many of us, has been shaped by her parents, their lives and experiences, as well as by her own. Her life has just a few people in it and Naomi’s determined to hold onto, help and protect them. She learns, painfully, that this isn’t always possible She also learns that good things happen too, especially if you’re open to them. It isn’t easy for Naomi to be open but she’s learning to be and she’s beginning to see what life has to offer her. College is an eye-opening experience for Naomi. She’s beginning to realize who she is and what she wants, slowly just as she’s still learning she cannot save everyone no matter how much she wants to.
I loved this book. Ms. Percer reminded what growing up was all about. It’s a difficult, painful time in life but it’s also a joyous one. There is so much in our lives that shapes who we are but ultimately it’s up to us as Naomi’s learning. My review doesn’t do justice to this wonderful, mesmerizing book. I highly recommend it.
Elizabeth Percer's Website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review An Uncommon Education and to Harper for a copy of this book.