02 May 2012

An Uncommon Education

The whole Netgalley/Edelweiss thing is new to me - making this my first review of a book read via eARC.

An Uncommon Education

Summary from Goodreads:
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.

Elizabeth Percer's writing style is lovely.  She sets exterior scenes so well, as if she were painting rather than writing.  Those were my favorite parts of the book.

Most of this novel is very good and compelling especially once Naomi reaches Wellesley. Unfortunately, there's a lot of backstory and unpacking of childhood incidences to get through first. I was very uninterested in Naomi's story for about the first 120 pages - I just couldn't connect the pieces to understand her father's obsession with Rose Kennedy/the Rose Kennedy house, her father's heart attack, her friendship/first love with the neighbor boy, her mother's depression, etc. Naomi is a bit like the literary version of the manic-pixie-dream-girl from the movies: she has a photographic memory, she's smart, she's determined, she's quirky.

Once the story moves to Naomi's years at Wellesley the plotting of the novel is better.  The twists and turns of roommates and cliques is universal whether one attends an Ivy or a state school.  I could identify with the insularity of the Shakespeare Club because I also belong to a secret society.  So I really liked those later sections of An Uncommon Education.  I just felt the first section of the book bogged down early.

Dear FTC: I received an electronic advance reader copy of this novel.

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