Summary: Theodore Mead Fegley has always been the smartest person he knows. By age 12, he was in high school, and by 15 he was attending a top-ranking university. And now, at the tender age of 18, he's on the verge of proving the Riemann Hypothesis, a mathematical equation that has mystified academics for almost 150 years. But only days before graduation, Mead suddenly packs his bags and flees home to rural Illinois. What has caused him to flee remains a mystery to all but Mead and a classmate whose quest for success has turned into a dangerous obsession.
At home, Mead finds little solace. His past ghosts haunt him; his parents don't understand the agony his genius has caused him, nor his desire to be a normal kid, and his dreams seem crushed forever. He embarks on a new life's journey -- learning the family business of selling furniture and embalming the dead--that disappoints and surprises all who knew him as "the young Fegley genius."
Equal parts academic thriller and poignant coming-of-age story, LIFE AFTER GENIUS follows the remarkable journey of a young man who must discover that the heart may know what the head hasn't yet learned. -- Grand Central Publishing
A few months back, Miriam from Hachette Book Group USA sent me an ARC of LIFE AFTER GENIUS by M. Ann Jacoby. I loved the cover and thought the premise of the novel sounded terrific, but the book unfortunately got buried in my TBR pile. It wasn't until Miriam announced that LIFE AFTER GENIUS was going to be the October selection for the Early Birds Blog Tour that I finally got around to reading the book. I was caught up in story from the first few pages of the novel, and I was captivated by his Mead's predicament.
I was very impressed with Ms. Jacoby's writing style as well as her ability to tell a story. This book was her first, yet I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a great deal more of her in the future. I found the book to be very fast-paced, and I couldn't put it down. The author had a way of drawing you into Mead's life, and I definitely felt a great deal of compassion towards him. In addition, she also told the story by alternating between "present day" and flashing back to Mead's time at the university. I thought it was extremely effective how Ms. Jacoby hinted at events in Mead's life and the reader didn't fully understand them until a chapter or two later. In addition, I loved how she kept a huge part of the story a mystery until the end of the book. I was extremely curious about what occurred back at the university that made Mead leave just a few days before graduation; and I couldn't read fast enough to learn the reason.
The character of Mead will remain in my thoughts for a long time -- I just found him to be extremely memorable. I think his character captured the essence of what it means to be an outsider and truly want to be "normal." As if it wasn't difficult enough to be a math genius and head off to college at 16, but he also felt like he didn't fit in anywhere. He was the victim of bullying when he was younger, as well as pressured by the expectations his over-bearing mother. In addition, he was living with so much guilt over the loss of his cousin (and maybe his closest friend.) For all of these reasons and more, he was just so desperate to have a friend; and this desperation eventually led to his downfall. I found his eventual understanding of not only himself, but also his family and friends, to be very moving.
While I did find this story to be tragic, I was impressed with how Ms. Jacoby was also able to infuse so much humor into the novel. Just by the nature of Mead's character, there was plenty of material for some lighter moments in this story. I thought there was a wonderful balance of funny and serious moments to make this book very entertaining. I do think it would make for a very interesting discussion at your next book club meeting. I couldn't find discussion questions at this time, but if I do, I'll make sure to post them!
I received so much insight into LIFE AFTER GENIUS after watching this video of Ms. Jacoby. I found it fascinating that this novel was based on her father who actually was a math genius and went away to college at 16. She admits that her father wasn't much of a talker, and she didn't really feel that she knew him very well. I thought is was funny that her friends thought her first drafts of the novel (which stayed true to her real father) didn't seem believable!
I know so many of you would really enjoy this novel, and that's why I'm so excited to announce that I have one copy to giveaway! (If you think you might be interested, you can read an excerpt here.)Please leave a comment with your e-mail address if you'd like to win this book. If you'd want to double your chances, please blog about this contest with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until Tuesday, November 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner on Wednesday, the 12th. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only! Good luck!