Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Release date: This edition July 2010 (first published 2005)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Black Swan
I feel a little sad to have finished Prep; it seemed to me while I was reading it that it was so full of truth and mistakes of judgment. I felt at times as if I was the main character of the story. Lee Fiora is thirteen when she has the idea that she could go to boarding school. She orders the prospectuses and is mesmerised by the glamourous, idealised images of adolescence that stare back at her. At fourteen years old, she has secured herself a place at Ault which is a prestigious private school just outside of Boston. Her parents are not well off but Lee is awarded a scholarship and she convinces them to let her go.
Prep is the story of her four years at Ault, from her early days as a Freshman to her final days as a Senior. It is an adult novel in style but it explores the experiences of a teen. I found it very relatable and I’m sure there are older teens that would enjoy this novel.
Lee is an interesting study in character. In her days at her state school, she was “special”. She stood out as academic and an achiever. At Ault, her position is not in any way extraordinary. If anything, Lee is below average at Ault and struggling to keep her grade up in Maths. She goes there thinking she will enjoy a rich and broadening education. What she actually experiences is something rather different. This is not to say that Prep gives a negative portrayal of private school education. Rather it explores Lee as a girl who is a dreamer, a thinker, a wisher but not a person of action. She is very much a voyeur. She watches the other students and almost creates a mental map of everything they do, say, wear. She is so afraid of saying the wrong thing that she rarely says anything in case she causes a social faux pas. The consequence is that much of Lee’s time is spent being incredibly lonely and living through an imaginary existence. In her first year she develops a crush on Cross Sugarman. He is a very popular guy in her year and is not lacking in self-esteem or charm. She spends so much of her time at Ault longing to be near him.
It would be easy to say that Lee is lacking in self-esteem. She is certainly not a character who is a great role model to young women but I think it isn’t fair to define her in such simple a way. It is almost as if Lee chooses to be self-conscious in the hope that it will make her more noticeable. She almost wants to be affronted, to experience some sort of monumental shake up to the social hierarchy. The frustrating thing is that as the reader you can recognise that she could easily be a part of the Ault social groupings if only she tried because she is a naturally funny and likable person.
When I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it. I wanted certain things to happen; I (like Lee) willed them to happen. Prep had a very attractive style. It isn’t necessarily abundant with figurative language but there is an honesty in Lee’s narrative and her bizarre ideas about how people are and how she chooses to be are really fascinating to read. Even though adult novels are outside of my comfort zone, I couldn’t have enjoyed this book more. I am definitely going to be reading more novels by Curtis Sittenfeld. It would be fair to say that for me Prep was an education. This is one book that I would love to see transformed into a film. It had so much that I could visualise between its pages. I loved it.