Monday, June 30, 2008
monday book review - prep: a novel, by curtis sittenfeld
Lee Fiora is an average, middle class girl who feels like she is meant for far greater things than her Indiana hometown.  Convincing herself that trading her Midwest family in for a fancy East Coast prep school is the answer, Lee becomes a scholarship student at the wealthy and prestigious Ault School, where she quickly learns that gaining admission isn't the same as gaining acceptance.  Prep chronicles Lee's four years at Ault, starting out as an insecure and lonely freshmen, leaving as a love-sick and angst-ridden senior, and reminding us just how very important all this felt at the time.

Coming-of-age stories are hard.  Being a teenager is so awkward, clunky, and uncertain, and it's difficult for any adult to write truthfully about that period without being tempted to go back and make revisions, creating a protagonist who's wittier, cooler, or more dangerous than most of us ever really were.  So when I finally picked up Prep - a book that was something of a critical darling when it was released and touted as a female version of The Catcher in the Rye - it was with strong feelings of reservation that I began.  After all, I had been burned many times before by the coming-of-age novel, and female authors tend to be the worst offenders for some reason. 

So, imagine my delight when Prep turned out to be everything it was lauded to be - a smart, honest, insightful, and often embarrassing trip back to one's formative years that doesn't make apologies or unnecessary revisions.  It was far from perfect, often painful, and at 449 pages sometimes felt a bit long, but these criticisms were easy for me to overlook seeing as I've never related to any fictional character the way I related to Lee Fiora.  Apart from the boarding school element, reading her story was like revisiting my own high school years, complete with all the heartbreak, angst, and feelings of self-doubt that it entailed.  Lee's decisions are often questionable, her insecurities difficult to reason, and she can often be downright unlikeable, but if we're being honest with ourselves - weren't we all? Aren't some of us still?

With Prep, Sittenfeld nailed what it's really like to be a teenager - or at least what it was really like for me - and in so doing restored my faith in the genre.  No small feat, that.

Curtis Sittenfeld
2005, 448 pages

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Blogger PAK said...

I have a 13 year old niece... would this book be appropriate for her, or should it wait a year or two? She wouldn't be bothered by the length, and she's a pretty advanced reader for her age.

Blogger Mrs. White said...

From a reading-level stance, she can handle it. From a subject matter stance...maybe wait a few years. My only reservation is that when Lee gets to her senior year she starts to have a sexual relationship with a boy, and the details of that relationship are pretty frank. As a teacher I have fewer reservations recommending it to a thirteen-year-old. In fact, it's on my bookshelf in my classroom and my freshmen regularly check it out. But, as an aunt (or in your case, an uncle) it might be a different story.

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