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How To Earn A Degree In Depression

Elizabeth Percer's An Uncommon Education takes young adulthood extremely seriously.

How To Earn A Degree In Depression

BOOK REPORT for An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

Cover Story: Put A Bird On It
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Literary Molasses
Bonus Factors: College, Cameron Quick
Relationship Status: English Class Crush

Cover Story: Put A Bird On It

This is the paperback cover of a grown-up book, which means we don't have to put up with any Big Faces or Emo Fonts. QUELLE RELIEF. You can totally flash this thing in public to let people know that you are a Serious Reader and your intellect should be Taken Seriously. Plus, they put on a bird on it, because that always makes things better.

The Deal:

Meet Naomi Feinstein, a sensitive, darkly thoughtful girl growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts in the mid '80s. Raised by a sweetly eccentric father and a deeply depressed mother, Naomi is never really sure how to connect with the outside world, but after a traumatic incident at age nine, she vows to be a doctor. As she evolves from a little girl to a college student, Naomi attempts to save the people around her-- her doting father, her distant mother, her childhood bestie, Teddy. But it isn't until Naomi's sophomore year at Wellesley, when she discovers an underground Shakespeare Society, that Naomi learns the truth: the only person you can truly save is yourself.

BFF Charm: Maybe

Naomi is... complicated. She feels everything deeply, and yet she remains aloof from most of the people around her. She's incredibly smart, but she can never seem to look past her emotional barriers. Basically, I found her fascinating and incredibly frustrating, and were we to be friends, I'm not sure if she would end up happier or if I would end up depressed. As a young child, she suffered from some severe emotional blows, and there were certainly moments when I wanted to give her a huge hug (and a shot of whiskey). But there were other times when I wanted to shake her, pull up all of her window shades, throw a fresh outfit on the bed and tell her, "WE'RE GOING OUT." Then I'd pop a mix CD featuring such songs as Dolly Parton's "Better Get to Livin'" and T.I.'s "Live Your Life," featuring Rihanna, into the car stereo, and we'd take a road trip, Thelma & Louise-style (minus the ending, obvs). Because this girl needs an escape, a chance to loosen up, and I'd love to give it to her. The only question is whether or not she would let me. (Ok, and actually, the other question is, what the hell would we talk about in the car? Cos I can only discuss Shakespeare and the anatomy of the human heart for so long.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Most of Naomi's romance takes place with Teddy, the boy who moves in next door when they're both around nine-years-old. Under layers of dazzling imagination and painful secrets, they form an intense bond, and it expands beyond the platonic realm as they approach adolescence. Their connection is intense, but for reasons I will not spoil for you here, their relationship is never able to blossom into full-on swoon. Still, Naomi's experience with Teddy lingers, coating the story with a haunting layer of romantic tragedy. And, during her Wellesley years, Naomi does get to have actual sex, but I had to deduct some swoon points for certain, ah, circumstances.

Talky Talk: Literary Molasses

This book is gorgeously written. It's also incredibly slow. Sometimes, Elizabeth Percer's language was so artfully intricate that I would re-read the same sentence just to relish it. Other times, I would re-read the same sentence because I fell asleep in the middle of the page. (True story.) If you're looking for a quick, action-packed read, this is not your book. If you're looking for a complex, emotionally rich portrait of young adult, you've hit the jackpot. I'm somewhere in the middle of those two types. I lost patience with the story several times and wished Percer would quit dawdling in the details, and then I would find myself mesmerized by her detour. Take, for example, this passage, when Naomi discusses the atmosphere at Wellesley during her freshman year:

I began to coach myself in adopting the coolness around me, enjoying the strange excitement of an unfriendliness even I hadn't dared to entertain before. At first if I saw a woman nearing me on a path, I would brace myself for being ignored, but within a few months I began to stiffen my posture and anticipate the exhilaration of such a bald rudeness on both our parts. It was amazing to pass another woman my age, at my college, and pretend we had no reason to acknowledge each other. It was a great, powerful lie, and it was as cold as the winter we were heading into, though sometimes as invigorating. At the library, I took to my own table and never worried that someone would ask to sit with me. Studying was hushed, and the walks home peppered only with more impassive strangers. We were not ships in the night; we were missiles in the day. It was thrilling and unkind.

DAMN, Percer. You've got serious skils.

Bonus Factor: College

About half of Naomi's story takes place at Wellesley, and since college is one of our milk carton qualities, I was eager to enjoy it. Unfortunately, Naomi isn't exactly the involved type, and it isn't until she joins the Shakespeare Society that things get cookin'. (New friendships! Wild parties! Major drama!) Still, I savored her early descriptions of campus and classes and, especially, that freshman rush of terrifying freedom.

Bonus Factor: Cameron Quick

Teddy is SUCH a Cameron Quick. And I mean that in the best and saddest way possible.

Casting Call:

Shailene Woodley as Naomi

A younger actress would need to be cast for the early parts of the book, but I have no doubt Shailene could handle both the teenage and the college era Naomi.

Relationship Status: English Class Crush

Other people in our class might call it a nerd, or even a weirdo, but I think this novel is a genius. It's deep and dark and tortured, not to mention totally beautiful. I love the way it expresses itself, although sometimes I wish it would get to the point already because this girl is looking for some ACTION. Given its cerebral nature, I doubt things will ever get physical with this book, and it definitely can't give me everything I need in a relationship. But even though we'll never speak the language of love, it did make me appreciate English in a whole new way.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Harper Collins.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). An Uncommon Education is now available in paperback.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).