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.
I’ve had Curtis Sittenfeld on my radar since the release of her second book, SISTERLAND, which was getting a lot of attention. So I promptly requested PREP through the city library. It arrived, and due to other events which prevented me from picking it up, it languished there for a week before returning to its place among the stacks. Then came a chance encounter at a local thrift store. I can read a book that’s been intriguing me for only $1? Sign me up!
I remember what I was like in high school and it really isn’t something I’d like to relive any time soon. I never got invited to the cool parties or cared about the latest fashions but I had a few good friends that made it bearable. I saw A LOT of myself in Lee’s awkward encounters. The same thoughts of insecurity and the rehashing every little moment of an occurrence with a cute boy went through my head when I was 16 too. Relating to the character was more of crutch than an attribute for this story. Transplanting Lee to an elite east coast boarding school does not redeem it either. It got real tedious real fast. By the end I was glad that Lee had graduated and realized that the banality of life at Ault really wasn’t that important in the long scheme of things. Most people do come to that realization, so if you’re going to write a novel about “coming-of-age”, at least find a more enticing angle than Lee finding out that boys are sexually overcharged and girls are catty.
If this seems a little harsh, it may be due to the fact that this is the first book in a long while that I really couldn’t stand. I have to admit that Sittenfeld does write a very convincing teenager, and I appreciate the book for that reason. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people that loved high school and look forward to their reunions and they will probably be the ones who find this book to be entertaining. I however, do not fall into that category.
The only dilemma I have after reading this book, is do I give Sittenfeld another chance? Your thoughts?
RATING : 2/5 Stars