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.”
An Uncommon Education is a deeply beautiful novel that collectively examines all that shapes and “educates” us throughout our lives culminating in who and what we become and why. From our earliest interactions and relationships such as those with our closest family members to later in life focusing on those individuals we choose to surround ourselves with and on down the line to our passions and those things that we choose to pursue and lose ourselves in by choice, the book speaks volumes about how each individual detail helps shape who we are to become. It also begs to ask…how much control do we really have over what we encounter in life and how it will affect us? One of my favorite lines in the very beginning of the novel reads:
“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. But he was able to command the kind of joy that only those who have known deep unhappiness can summon.“
The line reflects how our past and/or early beginnings can shape who we become but again questions…how much choice or influence do we really have in the matter?
It all begs to ask what one means by the word education? What is an education? Is it a course of study we actively pursue or a series of lessons that we are taught regardless of choice. Not just our formal educations like the relationship of student to institution although Naomi’s relationship to Wellesley is a large part of this book but our relationships, life moments and everyday happiness all lend a hand to our life education. The book speaks to the idea that our “educations” are made up of everything we encounter from the moment we come into this world. Naomi’s story is told from childhood on…showing how each and every moment helped to shape who she would become. Sometimes the lessons taught in childhood stick and become part of the end result and sometimes we learn and change what was earlier instilled.
It’s a tale of discovery and beauty as the details of the novel fall into place making the reader appreciate the flow of the story while also creating a very organic thought process that leads the reader to question long after the last word has been read. The book is one of easy readability on the surface but true depth just below. It’s definitely worth the read and the thinking that the reading will hopefully provoke. It’s a wonderful debut for Elizabeth Percer and I look forward to what she will do in the future. In her very first book she has truly mastered the art of creating an interesting story while also building a collective thought process that will lead readers beyond the plot and characters into something more. And now…you can get An Uncommon Education in paperback which makes it a great grab for easy summer reading on the go.
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