Monday, January 21, 2013

TLC Book Review - An Uncommon Education - Jan. 21

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
HarperCollins 2012

Format? paperback

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of An Uncommon Education from the publisher; however, the review below and the opinions therein are offered without bias.  I was not compensated for my review in any way.

Why?  I've always been a fan of academia and specifically women's experiences within the Ivory Tower.

Title? There are literal and figurative meanings behind the title...some of which I still don't have my mind wrapped around yet...which is perfect.

Cover? I like the colorful cover of the hardback better than the paperback...the only semblance of meaning in the cover of the paperback is the little yellow bird sitting in the top right hand corner.  

What Now?  I LOVED An Uncommon much that I've ordered a hardback copy from Amazon to rest on my keeper shelves...this is one that I can see re-reading in the future.  I'm happy to offer my paperback copy to an interested reader.  Just leave your email address and your blog URL in the comments if you're interested.

Golden Lines

My father wasn't a simple man, but the reverence he held for the world around us was as striking as a child's. (4)

It wasn't difficult to begin convincing myself that I, too, might be more than just an I, I might be a someone, a force in the world rather than a subject of it, vulnerable to the whims of my parents and other terrifying imbalances. (21)

The scar on her right wrist where she had tried, once, to take her life was always in the back of my mind.   I hated it for being there, for being a permanent mark on her skin, a lifelong symbol of her ubiquitous desperation. (52)

Sometimes, in the right lighting, the false comfort of achievement still worked for me.  The Wellesley grounds are receptive  to such wanderings.  Its founders knew that a woman aware of her own intelligence will be given  to the pathos of it all, the romantic and tragic qualities of being a female thinker. (143)

"It's strange that you girls would be so excited about plays that have so few mothers," she continued.  "It seems like you're so busy looking to lead the sort of lives that men have led, like that's a rare privilege.  Sometimes I wonder if you're not locked up in just as tight a frame as we were.  Despite all the opportunities you have now." (291)

And, finally, I told her how I'd tried to save Teddy, then Jun, and had always been trying to save her, and that by not allowing herself to be saved she had probably saved me. (327)

The entire last paragraph...(340)
I've read it multiple times already and will read it again and again, I'm sure.


From childhood Naomi Feinstein knows that she will attend Wellesley.  With a photographic memory, a confusing religious, cultural background (She's Jewish...but not Jewish enough) and her next door neighbor Teddy as her only friend, Naomi grows into a strong, independent young woman.  She shares her photographic memory with her mother who suffers from chronic depression, and her inquisitive nature with her father, her best friend and hero, through his heart attack, vowing to become a heart surgeon and keep her father well.
Once away from her family, at Wellesley, Naomi begins to realize that she might not be cut out for cardiac medicine and begins to flounder...who is she really and what does SHE want?  How does she separate individualism with what has always been and seems to still be expected of her? She finds a cadre of friends in The Shakespeare Society, girls like her, who are expected to be great, every day, every minute, and aren't really allowed the freedom to just enjoy their lives...even though they take their freedom anyway...sometimes with positive consequences and sometimes with life altering consequences.
A coming of age of age story destined to be a classic.

What I Liked

Naomi's father - what child wouldn't wish for a parent who loves as purely as he...and what parent wouldn't wish to be able to love a child like this.

Naomi - such a believable, rich character. Her thoughts are so deep, and Percer's ability to pull us into Naomi and care so much for her made this such a powerful read for me.

Naomi's mother, Theresa - so many times when writers paint a picture of depression, something happens and the reader just doesn't get it.  The reader may even respond with wishes that the character would "just snap out of it."  That isn't the case here...I felt Theresa's depression along with her (even though I wasn't depressed), and I never once wished she'd just throw the covers back and GET UP.  There's such truth in this character and in the way she interacts (and doesn't interact) with Naomi and her father that really helps the reader see this disease for what it is. Even more complicated is that I never felt sorry for Theresa or for the others in her life.  Not that I was happy that her depression had escalated to the point that is portrayed in the story, just that the writing makes it a part of the story...not the focus...I didn't feel asked about my feelings toward Theresa or her depression.  While Theresa's depression is a large part of story, it is not the focus.  I honestly don't think I've seen depression portrayed so effectively as Percer does in An Uncommon Education.  The story includes chronic depression as a part of this family's life; the story doesn't serve as an analysis of that depression.

The Academics - I'm a recovering academic...I can't help but appreciate this of my favorite scenes is Professor Pope's explanation to Naomi when she questions the grade she receives on a paper.  Naomi and the other students at Wellesley are accustomed to earning stellar marks, but the profs at Wellesley are not pushovers, nor are they afraid of students whose parents have buildings named after them on campus.  They are there to challenge even the students they know will be leaders of the future.  Professor Pope refuses to accept a proposed argument from Naomi, no matter how logical her defense of said argument, that is not supported by the text.
I loved this part.

The descriptions of the Wellesley grounds...what academic doesn't dream of attending such a school?

The Shakespeare Society - a real live group of Wellesley students since 1877 - Dead Poet's Societyish - I have no intelligent words for's just so cool :p

The words - quite simply there were many times while reading this novel that I stopped and re-read passages...not just for meaning...but just so the sentences and phrases and vocabulary could roll off my tongue. I was even tempted to read passages aloud...not something I usually do, except with my favorite classics.

What I Didn't Like

I'm trying really hard to think of something...but I can't.
An Uncommon Education was a perfect fit for me.

Overall Recommendation

If you like reading intelligent fiction about depression, mother-daughter relationships, growing up, Ivy League Schools, academics, and friendship, then An Uncommon Education will fit you as well as it did me.  

The Author

Elizabeth Percer



Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, January 8th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, January 9th: Oh! Paper Pages
Thursday, January 10th: nomadreader
Monday, January 14th: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, January 15th: Bibliosue
Wednesday, January 16th: Dreaming in Books
Monday, January 21st: Peppermint Ph.D.
Tuesday, January 22nd: Book Hooked Blog
Wednesday, January 23rd: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Thursday, January 24th: Great Imaginations
Friday, January 25th: Kritters Ramblings


  1. Great review -- I wasn't wild about this book and as time goes on, I find myself admitting I disliked it!! Goes to show how wildly differing tastes can be -- and you really shared what folks might enjoy. So much of this book didn't resonate with me -- but your enthusiasm has me thinking I might need a reread to see what I missed! ;)

    1. So true, Audra...I am a firm believer in the reader's interaction with the text based on individual experiences, tastes, etc. I also find that intensely interesting as well :) When I was in college, we spent a lot of time studying reader response theories, and I'm very much a student of that criticism...not so much that the work can mean whatever the reader wants it to but that comprehension is very much a transaction between the reader and the text and not one over the other. Can't wait to read your review :)

  2. I saw this one and it didn't appeal to me at all. That's what makes reading so much fun. There is something for everyone.

  3. "I'm trying really hard to think of something...but I can't." That alone says a great deal about this book! I'm so glad it was such a perfect fit for you. Thanks for being on the tour!