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.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.From the Hardcover edition.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
A 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 Uber-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. Agent, Shana Kelly. (Jan. 18) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . loved it
Posted February 24, 2010 by cj , weston, ctThis was an interesting read. It brought me back to my high school days even though I did not go to a boarding school.
January 11, 2005
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Excerpt from Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up. Ancient History was my first class of the day, occurring after morning chapel and roll call, which was not actually roll call but a series of announcements that took place in an enormous room with twenty-foot-high Palladian windows, rows and rows of desks with hinged tops that you lifted to store your books inside, and mahogany panels on the walls?one for each class since Ault?s founding in 1882?engraved with the name of every person who had graduated from the school. The two senior prefects led roll call, standing at a desk on a platform and calling on the people who?d signed up ahead of time to make announcements. My own desk, assigned alphabetically, was near the platform, and because I didn?t talk to my classmates who sat around me, I spent the lull before roll call listening to the prefects? exchanges with teachers or other students or each other. The prefects? names were Henry Thorpe and Gates Medkowski. It was my fourth week at the school, and I didn?t know much about Ault, but I did know that Gates was the first girl in Ault?s history to have been elected prefect.
The teachers? announcements were straightforward and succinct: Please remember that your adviser request forms are due by noon on Thursday. The students? announcements were lengthy?the longer roll call was, the shorter first period would be?and filled with double entendres: Boys? soccer is practicing on Coates Field today, which, if you don?t know where it is, is behind the headmaster?s house, and if you still don?t know where it is, ask Fred. Where are you, Fred? You wanna raise your hand, man? There?s Fred, everyone see Fred? Okay, so Coates Field. And remember?bring your balls.
When the announcements were finished, Henry or Gates pressed a button on the side of the desk, like a doorbell, there was a ringing throughout the schoolhouse, and we all shuffled off to class. In Ancient History, we were making presentations on different topics, and I was one of the students presenting that day. From a library book, I had copied pictures of the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Baths of Diocletian, then glued the pictures onto a piece of poster board and outlined the edges with green and yellow markers. The night before, I?d stood in front of the mirror in the dorm bathroom practicing what I?d say, but then someone had come in, and I?d pretended I was washing my hands and left.
I was third; right before me was Jamie Lorison. Mrs. Van der Hoef had set a podium in the front of the classroom, and Jamie stood behind it, clutching index cards. ?It is a tribute to the genius of Roman architects,? he began, ?that many of the buildings they designed more than two thousand years ago still exist today for modern peoples to visit and enjoy.?
My heart lurched. The genius of Roman architects was my topic, not Jamie?s. I had difficulty listening as he continued, though certain familiar phrases emerged: the aqueducts, which were built to transport water . . . the Colosseum, originally called the Flavian Amphitheater . . .
Mrs. Van der Hoef was standing to my left, and I leaned toward her and whispered, ?Excuse me.?
She seemed not to have heard me.
?Mrs. Van der Hoef?? Then?later, this gesture seemed particularly humiliating?I reached out to touch her forearm. She was wearing a maroon silk dress with a collar and a skinny maroon belt, and I only brushed my fingers against the silk, but she drew back as if I?d pinched her. She glared at me, shook her head, and took several steps away.