I read this book on the recommendation of a youth librarian at my local library. She asked me how old I was and pointed me toward this book. This is a reason that I resented some of the librarians in my childhood. They assumed that every person in an age group or gender enjoyed the same books. Book recommending is a tricky practice, but I would have appreciated some more thought.
I didn’t like Prep for several reasons. I couldn’t relate to the protagonist, Lee. I found her annoying, dumb, and way underdeveloped. The books spans Lee’s four years at Ault boarding school, but she remains the same. Even after she graduates, she’s emotionally stunted. She’s so ruthlessly self-centered that I wanted to punch her, and not in a character I love to hate way. I also didn’t think any of the other characters throughout the novel were likeable or believable. It felt like such a stretch to imagine that they could exist. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know.
I was also freaked out by so much of the “adult content” in this book, not because I was too young but because the author writes with no finesse. The book has no soul. The plot goes nowhere. The pacing is glacial. There isn’t anything there for me. It’s a pretty lengthy book, and I remember forcing myself to chug through and read it. I have no idea why.
I think Sittenfeld is capable of writing, if she was writing about something other than a thinly veiled memoir of her boarding school days.
Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She leaves her animated, affectionate family in South Bend, Indiana, at least in part because of the boarding school’s glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on pristinely mown athletic fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.
As Lee soon learns, Ault is a cloistered world of jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of–and, ultimately, a participant in–their rituals and mores. As a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider and is both drawn to and repelled by other loners. By the time she’s a senior, Lee has created a hard-won place for herself at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her carefully crafted identity within the community is shattered.
Ultimately, Lee’s experiences–complicated relationships with teachers; intense friendships with other girls; an all-consuming preoccupation with a classmate who is less than a boyfriend and more than a crush; conflicts with her parents, from whom Lee feels increasingly distant, coalesce into a singular portrait of the painful and thrilling adolescence universal to us all.
- Curtis Sittenfeld, “Prep” (thebooksheread.com)
- Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (bringingpaperback.wordpress.com)
- Remembering the world is a big place- “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld (readingthroughthebs.wordpress.com)