Amazon.com ReviewCurtis Sittenfeld's poignant and occassionally angst-ridden debut novel Prep is the story of Lee Fiora, a South Bend, Indiana, teenager who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ault school, an East Coast institution where “money was everywhere on campus, but it was usually invisible.” As we follow Lee through boarding school, we witness firsthand the triumphs and tragedies that shape our heroine's coming-of-age. Yet while Sittenfeld may be a skilled storyteller, her real gift lies in her ability to expertly give voice to what is often described as the most alienating period in a young person's life: high school.
True to its genre, Prep is filled with boarding school stereotypes--from the alienated gay student to the picture perfect blond girl; the achingly earnest first-year English teacher and the dreamy star basketball player who never mentions the fact that he's Jewish. Lee's status as an outsider is further affirmed after her parents drive 18 hours in their beat-up Datsun to attend Parent's Weekend, where most of the kids “got trashed and ended up skinny-dipping in the indoor pool” at their parents' fancy hotel. Yet even as the weekend deteriorates into disaster and ends with a heartbreaking slap across the face, Sittenfeld never blames or excuses anyone; rather, she simply incorporates the experience into Lee's sense of self. («How was I supposed to understand, when I applied at the age of thirteen, that you have your whole life to leave your family?”)
By the time Lee graduates from Ault, some readers may tire of her constant worrying and self-doubting obsessions. However, every time we feel close to giving up on her, Sittenfeld reels us back in and makes us root for Lee. In doing so, perhaps we are rooting for every high school student who's ever wanted nothing more than to belong. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers WeeklyA self-conscious outsider navigates the choppy waters of adolescence and a posh boarding school's social politics in Sittenfeld's A-grade coming-of-age debut. The strong narrative voice belongs to Lee Fiora, who leaves South Bend, Ind., for Boston's prestigious Ault School and finds her sense of identity supremely challenged. Now, at 24, she recounts her years learning “everything I needed to know about attracting and alienating people.” Sittenfeld neither indulges nor mocks teen angst, but hits it spot on: “I was terrified of unwittingly leaving behind a piece of scrap paper on which were written all my private desires and humiliations. The fact that no such scrap of paper existed… never decreased my fear.” Lee sees herself as “one of the mild, boring, peripheral girls” among her privileged classmates, especially the über-popular Aspeth Montgomery, “the kind of girl about whom rock songs were written,” and Cross Sugarman, the boy who can devastate with one look («my life since then has been spent in pursuit of that look”). Her reminiscences, still youthful but more wise, allow her to validate her feelings of loneliness and misery while forgiving herself for her lack of experience and knowledge. The book meanders on its way, light on plot but saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld, who won Seventeen's fiction contest at 16, proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book.
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