Saturday, 25 September 2010

Book Review: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Product details:
Publisher: Black Swan.
Paperback, 512 pages.
Release date: July 22nd 2010 (first published 2005).
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, Prep, is an insightful, achingly funny coming-of-age story as well as a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender in a hothouse of adolescent angst and ambition.

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.

Since it's release in 2005, Curtis Sittenfeld's debut novel, Prep, has divided readers opinions. Some love it, some hate it, and judging from reviews that I've read, there doesn't seem to be any happy middle ground for this one. Let's just say, I have never seen so many one-star ratings and negative reviews for such a well-written book. That said, I understand why these readers didn't like Prep. It's my belief that the negative opinions towards this book have little to do with Sittenfeld's style or story, and everything to do with her choice of female protagonist, Lee Fiora.

We first meet Lee as a shy fourteen year old, all set to start her Freshman year at Ault, an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Lee pretty much decided to apply for a scholarship to Ault because she thought she wouldn't get in, and when she did, well then, she had to go. Now she's a small town girl embarking on a new life in a very different setting.  Lee has hopes and dreams for her time at Ault, but they are soon dashed when she realises that she just doesn't fit in. A scholarship student, she feels out of place amongst the other students, the majority of who are from very wealthy families. From their names to the contents of their closets to their parents occupations, everything about them is different. How will she ever fit in at Ault?

The problem is, she doesn't. We follow Lee from Freshman through to Senior year and she never fits in at Ault. It's partly her own doing.  She doesn't try to fit in at Ault, instead preferring to observe everything around her.  Her actions are exasperating at times, and she's a difficult girl to figure out, but that makes her all the more interesting.   She remains aloof and unapproachable throughout her four years at Ault, and makes only a handful of friends along the way. She doesn't attend dances and parties. Instead she likes to hide out in her room plotting on how she will next bump into her number one crush, school hottie, Cross Sugarman.(You have got  to love the names in this book!) I wanted some romance for Lee, but boy, does she not know how to deal with the opposite sex!  Let's just say that things between her and Cross don't go smoothly and while you'll have to read the book to find out if Lee's time at Ault will end on a happy note, I will warn you that this girl is angst-ridden and has a way of sabotaging the good things that come her way!

Overall, I thought that Prep was an interesting read. I love coming of age tales and especially those set at boarding schools, and while I had my issues with Lee, I did find myself rooting for her from time to time. I often wondered how much Lee had developed as a character during her time at Ault and if the seventeen year old girl embarking on the real world was really all that different in terms of character development from the fourteen year old I'd been introduced to at the beginning of the book.   Mostly I liked the insight that Sittenfeld offered into the world of elite boarding school and her writing style, which was sublime. For a debut, this book was a wonder and I will definitely be checking out more from this author.


  1. This one has been on my to-read list for a long time.

  2. I really like the sound of this one. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You guys should check it out - it is a good read! A lot of people seem to dislike Lee Fiora, though!

  4. I am reading Prep too, and really need to finish it (the library is a calling!)


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