Elizabeth Percer’s An Uncommon Education is an expansive coming of age story that follows its protagonist from girlhood all the way through adulthood. Having a mother who suffers from severe depression and keeps to herself much of the time as a result, Naomi Feinstein grew up spending most of her time with her beloved father. The two are an intelligent but quirky pair, and Mr. Feinstein always demands the best from his daughter. They both conspire to map out her life from the time she is very young: she’ll excel in school, go to Wellesley, and become a cardiologist.
Of course, life isn’t that simple. When Naomi is still a young girl, her father suffers a heart attack before her eyes; he survives, but the experience leaves her terrified of losing him. Her mother is present, but she remains an enigma in all of the ways that matter; most of the significant details of her life are a closely guarded secret. And Naomi is an awkward girl; she has an amazing memory and does well in school but has no friends. When a boy her age moves in next door, the two become inseparable. Then, eventually, he too is gone. It seems her entire childhood and adolescence are spent in fear of losing those closest her her.
As planned, Naomi gets into Wellesley and begins some of the most formative years of her life. She has a rough start, dealing with the same type of isolation and social awkwardness that she did when she lived at home. It isn’t until she crosses paths with two other Wellesley students that her real college life starts to take shape: the two girls are part of the mysterious Shakespeare Society on campus and convince her to join. It’s weird and fun, and Naomi is finally able to build a network of friends. The new interests she develops, however, are not part of The Life Plan.
I actually had a hard time getting into this book. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t a book that was easy to sit with for long periods of time. Then along the way something clicked and the whole thing started to work for me. Percer’s characterizations of loneliness and that self-doubt you sometimes feel in college are spot on. Parts of the book are slow, but the writing is nuanced throughout. If you like quiet characters with vivid inner lives, you’ll probably enjoy this one.
An Uncommon Education was originally released in hardcover in May 2012; it was released as a paperback earlier this month by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.