An Uncommon Education

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A young woman tries to save three people she loves in this elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut.

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 ...

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An Uncommon Education

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Overview

A young woman tries to save three people she loves in this elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet Percer's fiction debut is an intimate portrait of an intelligent, tender girl with a deep wish to protect those she loves. With a depressed mother and an ailing father, Naomi Feinstein found comfort and peace in her only friend: Teddy. But when he disappears from her life when she is 15-years-old, Naomi is devastated. To distract herself from the loss, Naomi dives into her studies, desperate to get into Wellesley College and become a cardiac surgeon, a dream she's had since age eight when she witnessed her adored father suffer a near-fatal heart attack. Naomi is finally accepted at Wellesley, and she arrives with the hopes of finally having a social life, but finds herself awash in loneliness. When she rescues a fellow student from a freezing lake, the heroic act opens the doors to the clandestine Shakespeare Society, an exclusive all-women group with a passion for Shakespeare and secret rituals. It is within "Shakes" that Feinstein begins to let go of her past and form new friendships. But with these new relationships, Naomi finds herself entangled in a scandal, just as her understanding of her past comes crashing down around her. (May)
Oprah.com
“[Naomi demonstrates] how to make the kinds of choices that eventually lead to an uncommon but joy-filled life.”
New York Times Book Review
“Enticing and shyly perceptive.”
New York Post
“Think Dead Poet’s Society or The Secret History.”
Hudson Valley News
“A fine novel and a young writer to watch.”
San Jose Mercury News
“A wistful debut novel by noted Bay Area poet.”
Booklist
“Percer’s lyrical novel has much to offer.”
New York Journal of Books
“Elizabeth Percer relates the life story of Naomi Feinstein with beautifully scripted, lush prose drawing in the reader and providing an unobstructed view deep into the hearts of her characters. . . . Rich in history, steeped in family tradition, and full of emotion—a lesson in practiced elegance.”
J. Courtney Sullivan
“A moving and bittersweet coming-of-age story about love, loss, friendship, ambition, and the power of memory. This complex and satisfying tale introduces a cast of quirky, hilarious, intellectual young women, struggling to find their place in the world.”
Caroline Leavitt
“Eloquent, haunting and exquisitely written, Percer’s stunning debut finds surprising beauty in the broken places of our lives. Here, winning can’t mute pain, but love endures despite the odds, and the education of a remarkable young woman is as uncommonly original as this novel itself.”
Lauren Belfer
“Haunting and poignant, Elizabeth Percer’s coming-of-age novel portrays a bright young woman confronting her limits as she watches those she loves deal with illness and betrayal. Each turn of this elegiac debut revealed stark truths that left me both moved and astonished.”
Nicole Mones
“It’s impossible not to care about Naomi Feinstein . . . An Uncommon Education beautifully [brings] Naomi to the Bard (the play’s the thing), but also gives the reader something much rarer—a world, and a life, that seem real.”
Library Journal
Smart but a little anxious—her father, an émigré from Israel, suffers from poor health; her mother, who converted to Judaism, is distant and clinically depressed; and her best friend's mother disapproves of her—Naomi Feinstein has one ambition. She wants to attend Wellesley College, not far from the Boston suburb where she lives but a world away, a shining, splendid city where her intellect will unfold lushly like a flower. Yet when she finally arrives, she suddenly feels dislocated among the campus's glassy, glossy, relentlessly assured young women. Only slowly does she find herself again, as she joins the Shakespeare Society, whose members perform the Bard's plays and nurture complex relationships, and forges a special friendship with a former tennis rival. What really matures her is a terrible moment of betrayal and her determinedly reengaging with her parents, and it's astonishing to see how Naomi readjusts her self-image and emerges whole. VERDICT Three-time Pushcart nominee Percer offers an uncommonly good debut that's finely detailed and emotionally gripping while avoiding every pitfall of the standard coming-of-age tale. Highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Bonds of love, family and friendship, sometimes damaged or beyond repair, are nevertheless celebrated in an intense debut by a noted poet. Naomi Feinstein, the misfit child of misfit parents--an orphaned immigrant Jewish father and a depressed Catholic mother--grows up clever but lonely in Brookline, Mass., convinced by her father's heart attack that her destiny lies in cardiac medicine. Friendship with Teddy, the boy next door, turns into an early but enduring love. However Teddy moves away, leaving Naomi alone once more while still questing for a closer relationship with her troubled mother. Accepted at Wellesley College, Naomi leaves home only to find that college life is just as solitary until a sudden act of heroism on her part leads to acceptance by the Shakespeare Society and friendships, notably with a privileged Japanese girl, Jun Oko. Although Naomi's insularity becomes somewhat diminished, darker events will swallow three of the people she cares most about, and the largest lesson she must learn is that she cannot save any of them. Her efforts to do so and eventual emergence from sadness are charted with restraint and empathy in Percer's lyrical, slightly dreamy narrative. A subdued, thoughtful coming-of-age tale that hovers observantly on the edge of melancholia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062110961
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley. She lives in California with her husband and three children. An Uncommon Education is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 29, 2012

    This is an amazing novel. The writing was so beautiful and the

    This is an amazing novel. The writing was so beautiful and the story of Naomi was incredibly moving. You have to read this!! I just found out this is her first novel but she is a poet, which doesn't surprise me. This is a new novels you will recognize as fine literature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2012

    Extraordinary debut!!!

    A unique and extremely fulfilling reading experience. What an incredible book! There are passages where you have to pause, digest, process and luxuriate in the perfection of the language. This is a beautiful coming of age story of a middle-class woman with the extraordinary capacity to realize both the expectations and possibilities of her parents' hopes and dreams. Naomi's Wellesley experience is poignantly articulated and the final outcome of her choices both hopeful and uncertain. Percer has an uncanny ability to capture the nuances of the emotional journey in a coming of age journey. Truly outstanding. I can't wait for her next novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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