Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby (with interview and giveaway)

My mother once said, "Smart people can be so stupid sometimes." More than a decade later, I can't remember why she said this, but I sure hope she wasn't talking about me! Anyway, this statement kept coming to mind as I read M. Ann Jacoby's Life After Genius, a coming-of-age story about 18-year-old Theodore "Mead" Fegley, who runs away from college days before graduation.

Mead's intelligence sets him apart from the other kids his age, so he basically grows up with his nose in a textbook and no friends, aside from his cousin, Percy, whom Mead views more as a rival. Pressured by his mother to succeed, Mead graduates high school early, goes to college at age 15, and tests out of freshman year during his first week on campus.

Jacoby piques readers' interest right away: Why did Mead leave school abruptly? And who is this creepy Herman Weinstein, who seems to follow Mead everywhere and is way too interested in Mead's mathematics research. It all has to do with Mead's obsession with proving or disproving the Riemann Hypothesis, his desire to get ahead without thinking about the consequences of his actions, and his lack of social skills and poor judgment of character. This is where my mother's saying about academic intelligence not always translating into common sense comes into play. Readers can tell right away that something is fishy about Herman; Mead senses it, too, and you just want to reach into the book and slap him silly.

Jacoby tells Mead's story in non-linear fashion, shifting back and forth in time and unravelling the relationship between oblivious Mead and creepy Herman in small chunks. The book jacket calls Life After Genius an academic thriller, but I thought the academic part of the story was pretty predictable.

It is in the coming-of-age aspect of the story where Jacoby shines. Mead spends much of his life running away when things don't go smoothly. But when he returns home, he must confront his mother's disappointment head on, decide whether his future involves working in the family furniture store/funeral home, and cope with his uncle's hostility and his aunt's mental breakdown. The old wounds don't heal completely and he doesn't fully grow up, but Mead learns things about himself, his family, and life that can't be found in textbooks.

While I enjoyed Life After Genius and would recommend it to others, the ending left me a bit disappointed because of some loose ends. But Jacoby did a brilliant job creating a host of complex characters and placing them in unusual situations, holding my interest until the very last page.

(And I love the cover! I'm all about loud socks! Click here, and you'll understand!)

Read an excerpt of Life After Genius here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing M. Ann Jacoby. I'd like to thank Ms. Jacoby for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions, and Miriam Parker from Hachette Book Group for making the interview and the entire Early Birds Blog Tour possible.
What was your inspiration for Life After Genius?
My initial idea was to write a novel based on my father, who was a childhood "math genius" with an undertaker as a father, and how he survived the battleground of childhood as the odd kid out. The resulting novel, however, has nothing to do with my dad's true life experiences.
There are some really interesting and complex characters in the book, particularly Mead and Herman. Are any of them based on people you know, or are they completely fictional?
Mead started out as my father but readers found him neither sympathetic nor believable as a character so I began to fictionalize him, and the more I fictionalized him, the more sympathetic and believable he became. Mead and Herman both went through many drafts where they had time to develop into more complex characters.
How much research did you do for Life After Genius? Did you have an in-depth knowledge of math?
I did not have an in-depth knowledge of math--and I still don't. I read a book on the Riemann Hypothesis written for the layman--which is mentioned in my acknowledgements page--and familiarized myself with the basic concept of the theorem and with some of the language.
With all the talk about prime number theory, zeta functions, and the Riemann Hypothesis, did you find it hard to incorporate that stuff without bogging down the narrative? My mind goes elsewhere at the mention of math (I'm lucky I can balance my checkbook), but I found all the math talk in Life After Genius interesting.
In earlier drafts, there was more math but I took it out, leaving just enough to let the reader know that Mead is a brainy kid who knows stuff the average person does not. After all, the novel is not about math but about finding one's place in the world.
Thanks, Ms. Jacoby! Wishing you much success!
Check out the interviews at Savvy Verse & Wit and The Printed Page to learn more about M. Ann Jacoby!
To celebrate the release of Life After Genius, Hachette Book Group is offering a copy to one lucky reader.
Here are the rules:
1. You must have a U.S. or Canada address to enter. No P.O. Boxes.
2. Leave a comment on this post. But instead of saying, "Please enter me," I'd like you all to answer a question just to make things more interesting. What was your favorite course or subject in school (doesn't matter what grade)?
3. For an extra entry, blog about the giveaway or post it in your blog sidebar and let me know here. For those of you without a blog, you could email 5 people and 'cc' me on the message.
4. Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win! If you don't have a blog or your blog profile is broken or unavailable, please leave an email address. If I don't have a way to contact you, your entry won't be counted!
Deadline is Wednesday, Nov. 5!
These blogs also are participating in the Life After Genius Early Birds Blog Tour:
Marjolein Reviews
The Book Nest
Seaside Book Worm Blogger
Books by TJBaff
The Optimistic Bookfool
The Printed Page
My Friend Amy
Shooting Stars Mag
Books, Pungs, and More
A Novel Menagerie
The Tome Traveller's Weblog
medieval bookworm
Book Critiques
B&b ex libris
Sharon Loves Books and Cats
At Home With Books
A Circle of Books

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Life After Genius from Hachette for review purposes.


Jeannie said...

Hi Anna. Please enter me. :D

"What was your favorite course or subject in school (doesn't matter what grade)?"

I had two favorite subjects. I loved history- from prehistoric to Biblical times to the present. Learning how countries came to be and how cultures and customs formed was (and still is) really thrilling for me.

My other favorite subject in school was math. Hard to explain why without sounding too geeky. For me, numbers are like words. Put them together in the right order and they tell a message. Ok, I'm a geek. :D

FYI: I completed 12 units of college credit in high school and entered college at age 17. I wasn't a genius, but I was burned out. I imagine burn out was the reason why the main character runs away from school before graduating. I think I would find this book interesting to read.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. You're right... Herman was creepy. And, the ending was a little hard for me, too. I did want to know what happened!

Marie Cloutier said...

Great review & interview- sounds like a fun book :-)

Serena said...

I really agree with you about the ending.

Anonymous said...

My favorite subject in school was English.

WordLily AT gmail

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

great review!!!I love this book :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I wonder if the Tour Manager would like this, given that he's a total math nerd. It's not fantasy, though, so I doubt it.

(Oh, my poor Tour Manager. But really, part of the job description of tour manager is "being made fun of by the talent". Really.)

Anyway, darling, no need to enter me, as always. I'm just dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail so we knew to post this at Win a Book.

.Books by TJ Baff said...

Great review.
I was satisfied by the ending....we know that Mead did the right thing and he wasn't scared about Herman anymore....he wanted to save him (literally and figuratively) and make him feel worth something.
My take.....:)

Sara said...

Literature was my favorite subject, of course. Please enter me. Thanks!
Sararush at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a good think I work in book publishing because I loved English class. The only think I didn't love was that you had to give the books back at the end.

Anonymous said...

My favorites were always the lit classes, whether it be English lit or American women writers, poetry or drama.

djecse at yahoo dot com

teabird said...

My favorite course in high school was music appreciation. I got to listen to my favorite classical music for 45 minutes a day! Bliss.

teabird 17 at yahoo dot com

Toni said...

Hi there.. GREAT review. I think that is so true what you wrote. Sometimes people can have such a gift of intelligence but completely lack the gift of common sense. My mom would say book smart / people stupid.
Happy Blog Tour!!!

Anonymous said...

now that's a tough question.. i would have to say that world geography was one of my favorite courses.
do enter me for this giveaway!:)

darbyscloset said...

Each of my favorite classes had an unfavored part to I'm trying to think of one that didn't....I enjoyed English when we read yet not when we had to write, math? no way, I guess I would say theatre or art.
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com
Oh and pls enter me!

Anonymous said...

re: socks ... I love the flamewalkers! I'm a fan of the "miss matched" line of socks (they come 3 to a pack, all different, but coordinated).

favorite subject - geometry. because I love solving puzzles and there was no ambiguity. when it was done, it was done.

Anonymous said...

I would love to win this book! My favorite subjects were History and English. Thanks for the chance.

Luanne said...

Well first off - loved the socks link.

I really liked the ending, but didn't see it coming.

I enjoyed the book as well, and your q&a with the author, so no need to enter me.

SmilingSally said...

Good review and interview.

a real librarian said...

My favorite subject in school was my American history class. We had a pretty good teacher who made it interesting.

Thanks for the chance to win!!!


Shana said...

Anna, no need to enter me in the contest. I wanted to pop in here and tell you how much I enjoyed the review and interview. I had no idea the book was originally based upon the author's father, nor did I realized it was classified as an academic thriller.


Anonymous said...

Great review! I really enjoyed it! No need to put me in the contest... I'm giving away the book as well. I wanted to let you know that my site is now at and the link to is no longer active.

Nice to be on the book tour with you!


Carol M said...

My favorite subject was history. I was just ok in math.
Carol M
mittens0831 AT

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'd love to get a look at this one. My favourite subject in high school was science (genetics specifically). I'm adding a link to this giveaway in my sidebar on the front page of my blog.

Cassie said...

English. Always English. Majored in English. Work in a library. There's a theme there!

Thanks for the entry!

Anna said...

Jeannie: You're not a geek! I really wish I could look at numbers without getting freaked out.

Sheri: With some books, guessing at the ending doesn't bother me too much. But with this one, I was frustrated.

Marie: Thanks! It was!

Serena: Woman of few words...LOL We did discuss the book to death on our many bus rides and lunches together.

Wordlily: Mine, too! So much so that I eventually turned my English minor into a second major!

Bethany: Thanks!

Susan: You're a doll! Thanks so much!

Tamara: I just love how different people interpret things differently. That was one of the best things about this book tour.

Sara: I agree!

Miriam: Thanks for stopping by my blog! I loved English classes in college so much because I could keep the books!

Carol: Me too! I just loved how my school offered classes in so many different genres.

Teabird: Didn't have music appreciation in my high school, but I bet I would've enjoyed it.

Toni: Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed my review!

Ramya: I wish I'd had more geography in school. I'm lucky I can find the U.S. on the globe. LOL

Darby: Math and science were the only classes I had mixed feelings about. Oh, and I hated gym!

Dawn: Thanks! Glad you like my socks! It's finally getting cold enough to wear them again! Oh, and I was so bad at geometry. Anything that has to do with math actually.

Baba: You're very welcome!

Luanne: Aren't those socks cool, if I do say so myself! ;) As for the ending, it's been getting mixed reviews.

Smilingsal: Thanks!

A Real Librarian: American history was always an interesting class! Too bad we didn't get much farther than the Revolutionary War. At least that's all I remember studying. ;)

Shana: Thanks! To be honest, until this book, I never knew there was an "academic thriller" category!

Sheri: Thanks for letting me know!

Carol: An OK in math is better than what I was. You should be proud. ;)

Ann: Thanks for spreading the word about the giveaway!

Sunny: Let me love English! LOL

Stonefox said...

I loved anatomy and physiology! Cutting a cat open was awesome! Yuck, I am serious! Thanks for the giveaway, this book sounds great!

~Mad said...

My favorite sujects growing up and through college were (and still are) Englush and Englis....not reading but "english".
I didn't come to being a voracious reader until I could choose my own titles and read whatever I wished.

~Mad(elyn) in Alabama
mwing73 at charter dot net

Amber said...

Please enter me - my favorite course throughout high school was history!

Darlene said...

No need to enter me Anna. I posted about the giveaway here:

Sorry it's late, crazy week last week.

Paradox said...

I guess it was English, which was usually the most intellectually stimulating. Either that or anything with art or computers.

Anna said...

Stonefox: I dissected a cat, too, as part of my vet tech courses. And a rat, and a pig. Interesting, but I bet I couldn't do it now. I've grown quite queasy as I've aged (and I'm all of 30 LOL)

Mad: I've always loved reading, but I hear you about how it gets better when you're in charge of what you read!!

Amber: I enjoyed history, too, but not nearly as much as English!

Dar: Thanks so much for blogging about my giveaway! Don't worry about it being late; I'm behind in things, too. Sometimes real life just gets in the way! Thanks for thinking of me!

Paradox: I agree with English and art; never was interested in computers, which is funny because I pretty much need a computer for everything these days!

Teddy Rose said...

I'm not entering your giveaways, I just wanted to know that I metioned them on my blog, here:

Mo said...

PLease enter me in your giveaway (My favorite class was math, as it is a "logical" subject, where the rules never change); I'd never even heard of this one until today, when I found several reviews of this book via semicolon's weekly review carnival, and already I'm intrigued with Mead, and his smart/stupid dichotomy...

Anna said...

Teddy Rose: Thanks for helping spread the word!

Mo: Thanks for stopping by my blog. Mead definitely is an intriguing character and not one easily forgotten when you're done reading!

Wendi said...


Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index


Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi!