Author: Elizabeth Percer
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: Publisher for review
Description from Goodreads:
For fans of "Prep," "Dead Poets Society," and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics "comes an elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut, in which a young woman's serendipitous discovery of her college's underground Shakespeare Society leads to an unforgettable series of transformations. When Naomi finds herself among "the Shakes" at Wellesley, she finally lets herself embrace the passionate inner self she's always kept locked away. But when a sudden scandal unfolds, she will be forced to learn the limits of the relationships that have sustained her. An intimate and enthralling narrative, Elizabeth Percer's debut novel "An Uncommon Education "marks the emergence of a stunning new literary talent.
First Sentence: "On the day after my mother's death, I returned to 83 Beals Street for the first time in fifteen years."
Readers who like books with a fast pace are not likely to be well-pleased with Percer's debut. I do not mind a slow pace, so long as a story has other things to recommend it, especially if I can take my time with it, rather than trying to rush through for a deadline. Percer's writing is intricate and well-worth savoring slowly.
What kept me from really connecting with this book is its lack of direction combined with its pretentiousness. Taking the former, the novel does not have a cohesive plot. There's nothing really propelling the reader forward. It's just a woman looking back at her life, though primarily just her childhood and college years, in the period after her mother's death.
Naomi learns about the tenuousness of life and the dangerousness of love during her childhood. Her father has a heart attack and nearly dies in front of her right at the beginning of her story. Later on, just as she's starting on puberty and falling in love for the first time with her neighbor Teddy, his father dies, and Teddy's mom moves them away. From this point on, she avoids real close connections, a habit she cannot truly shake at college. Naomi also keeps an emotional wall up between herself and the reader, which prevented me from forming an attachment. There does come a change suddenly towards the end, and I would actually like to have seen more development of her character, so that I could wholly buy into her changed mindset.
I suppose I knew the book would be one of those intended to highlight the mighty intellect of the author, but not to this degree. As with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the main character becomes involved in a time-eating, addictive society, one which leads to a degradation in her classwork and some out-of-character decisions. The club, while not secret, has some seriously unsavory practices, like the parties after their performances of Shakespeare plays where the girls hook up with others, some of whom are masked to preserve their identities.
While there's nothing wrong with a drifting plot or showing off, I just feel like some of the pieces of the novel were not entirely necessary. Some scenes seem to exist solely for exposition that reveals the vast swaths of knowledge of the author. Others seem to serve merely to add drama to the otherwise staid narration, like the revelation as to what exactly happened at one of those masked parties.
That all comes across rather on the negative side, but I did enjoy the book and I would read something else by Elizabeth Percer, because I do like her writing. If you like Special Topics in Calamity Physics or books that make you feel cleverer for having read them, I suspect An Uncommon Education will be right up your alley.
Favorite Quote: "'You're just not used to your own brightness.' He scooted closer to me so that our hips were touching. 'This is how I see you,' he explained, staring down at the paper. 'Your face isn't really beautiful,' he once admitted,' but it is wonderful. More wonderful than beautiful.' I remember staring down at that paper, seeing a girl with a big, uneven smile looking out at me. I had never considered that someone might see me that way—bursting with light and wonderful."