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An Uncommon Education: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2012: A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee for her stories, Elizabeth Percer brings the clarity and sophistication of the short form into her affecting debut novel about a young woman with lessons to learn. When we meet Naomi Feinstein in childhood, she has clumsy if loving parents, an eccentric best friend, and few social graces. Her photographic memory and intense ambition help Naomi chart a path to her dream school, but the relationships she builds there turn out to have far more resonance than the education she imagined. On a campus full of women with strengths and foibles as complicated as her own, she learns when to trust (and distrust) her instincts about both academia and other human beings. Percer’s gift lies in making Naomi--and her family, friends, and lovers--utterly, absorbingly real. An Uncommon Education feels like the kind of all-night conversation that breaks your heart when it ends. --Mia Lipman


“Enticing and shyly perceptive.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Think Dead Poet’s Society or The Secret History.” (New York Post)

“A fine novel and a young writer to watch.” (Hudson Valley News)

“[Naomi demonstrates] how to make the kinds of choices that eventually lead to an uncommon but joy-filled life.” (Oprah.com)

“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.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“Poet Percer’s fiction debut is an intimate portrait of an intelligent, tender girl with a deep wish to protect those she loves.” (Publishers Weekly)

“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.” (J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and Commencement)

“Bonds of love, family and friendship, sometimes damaged or beyond repair, are nevertheless celebrated in an intense debut by a noted poet. . . . [A] thoughtful coming-of-age tale that hovers observantly on the edge of melancholia.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A wistful debut novel by noted Bay Area poet.” (San Jose Mercury News)

“Percer’s lyrical novel has much to offer.” (Booklist)

“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.” (Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You)

“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.” (Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light)

“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.” (Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef)

“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.” (New York Journal of Books)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062110969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062110961
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,346,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Too often in life I will hear someone say "All my problems will be over once" something happens. The teenager thinks going to college will change them; the college kid thinks a real job with a paycheck will, the young employee thinks marriage, then children, then empty nester, retirement, and so on. The real truth about life is we never get rid of our problems, rather we just trade them in for new ones. The only constructive thing a person can do at any sage of life is to address their problems head on and befriend them. It is through this you can find some sort of peace.

Naomi Fienstein is a young woman severely troubled by life. A disinterested mother and a secretive father beset with ill health. When her father has a heart attack right in front of her she decides that she can fix this. She will dedicate her life to medicine, specifically to the heart. But her problems mount at school as she is without friends, a social outcast who is picked on. Her first love, the neighbor boy suddenly moves away and she is left alone. She deals with the loneliness by literally running away from it; taking to the streets to run. Eventually life will be better when she gets to college, her problems left behind.

When meeting her freshman roommate her father comments how she is Naomi from down the street, symbolically demonstrating that for all her running, all her planning she has yet to travel very far. Because at the end of the day her life is still with her. Her dad does not open up about his past, her mother does not magically change into a caring person, and she still spends most of her time at the library.

An Uncommon Education is a wonderful coming of age story.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a beautiful novel, sort of Leif Enger meets Willa Cather with a pinch of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" thrown in. It's also not at all what I expected. I wanted to read it because much of the story takes place at my alma mater, Wellesley College. I also love coming-of-age tales. I guess I expected something good, something solid, something that I would adore because of the Wellesley connection, but not something that I would talk about endlessly to anyone who will listen (which happens maybe once every few years). In short, this exquisite novel totally took me by surprise.

I really love how Naomi's coming-of-age is a long and winding road, with all sorts of wrong turns and dead ends. We all have events in our lives that define us and shape who we are, but for Naomi these events come off as infinitely more indelible and profound. There is one thing involving her family, in the very beginning of the book, and then something else involving a close friend several years later. It makes perfect sense that these events make Naomi who she is - at least until she goes off to Wellesley, and then something starts to shift. She begins to define herself not in relation to the people around her, but as her own person. Not in terms of the things that have happened to her, but in terms of the choices she makes for herself. This is a magical moment in anyone's life, I think, and Elizabeth Percer so perfectly captures this process of self-realization - in the very setting I experienced it myself - that it takes my breath away. It's murky, it's confusing, it's heartbreaking and intoxicating and scary as hell. It makes no sense and it makes all the sense in the world. I also love that this is the most important thing Naomi takes away from Wellesley.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a moving and deep coming of age story with far-reaching cultural associations.

We follow Naomi, a lonely nine-year old growing up near the JFK National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts through her high school years and four years at Wellesley College and beyond.

Many of Naomi's experiences and relationships loosely parallel those of characters we've become familiar with through an expansive cultural consciousness: Shakespeare, Greek myth, the Bible, Judaism, our western heritage and the Holocaust.

I found myself identifying with Naomi - so many of her experiences were similar to my own during my formative years. The difference, of course, is our individual interpretation, internalization and remembrance of them and the strength we draw from people who supported us (or didn't) along the way.

Very well written! An excerpt:

"I don't know why I even asked for my mother when I eventually did work up the courage to extend an invitation for them to come to the play. I suspect my excitement surged into an enthusiasm I thought might be contagious, it whispered possibilities I would never otherwise entertain: I could wheedle my mother into something more hopeful; hope itself could be doctored. I fiddled with the bracelet on my wrist, which I had begun wearing again, inspired by the more decorated members of the society, though I loved the hidden intimacy of the engraving against my skin. I'm not sure God was closest to those with a broken heart, but the beauty of that line and its connections to my mother helped me to pretend that I knew her better than I did.
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