Remembering the world is a big place- “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld

August 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm 3 comments

Cover of "Prep: A Novel"

Cover of Prep: A Novel

“Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, Published in 2005

This book was a pretty great find. Somehow, I have not discovered Ms. Sittenfeld sooner but coming across this book was a happy thing.  There is nothing like finding a new writer to love.

Lee is just an ordinary, intelligent 13-year-old girl growing up in the midwest.  On a bit of a whim, she applies to a prestigious boarding school, the Ault School, outside of Boston.  Like most middle class families, her parents have never really heard of anyone going to boarding school but don’t worry about it until Lee actually gets accepted and then receives a financial aid scholarship. Suddenly, Lee’s crazy dream of attending Ault becomes a reality.  So the fall of Lee’s freshman year in high school she finds herself on a strange campus watching her father drive away.

What follows is Sittenfeld’s amazing detailing of the next four years of Lee’s life at this private, elite boarding school.  Her freshman year, Lee has two roommates, one who barely speaks English and the other one who is solely focused on moving up the popularity ladder. She feels out of place, unpopular and very, very alone.  She is not the brightest, the prettiest, or the most talented.  Instead, Lee is average and awkward.  She feels everything that every kid feels when they are 14 years old.  Also like every teenager, Lee is in love or lust or at the very least enamored, with a new person each week.  Until she finally picks her permanent high school crush – who of course (as you can guess) will use and abuse her through-out her years at Ault.

And so it goes.  Each year at Ault, Lee starts to relax, finds where she belongs, but is never truly comfortable in her own skin.  There are lots of moments in this book where you cringe because Lee is just trying so hard.  She wants to be funny, she wants all of the rich, beautiful, popular kids to like her.  She goes to great lengths to appease.  Lee can also be cruel, foolish and self-absorbed. All of this can be painful to read. But she is also endearing. Lee is quirky and self-effacing, she is parts of every teenager – you see yourself in her.

Sittenfeld has captured everything that is high school.  High school is bizarre.  It is like a terrible, wonderful, confusing four year long guessing game.  Who is your friend? Who is your enemy? Did anyone see you embarrass yourself? Was that moment really embarrassing? Are you pretty enough, smart enough, cool enough? Did you laugh too hard or not enough or should you have not laughed at all?  Will she invite you to her party? Will he ask you to the dance (will anyone ask you to the dance)? No one asked you to the dance so you shouldn’t go, right? Everything is uncertain. You are awkward and uncomfortable and lonely.  For those four years high school is your world.  One very small, narrow world.

But as Lee learns – though not until the end, not until she is ready to learn it – the world is not defined by high school. It is just a part of growing up.  When you are in it your failures seem devastating and your successes feel like the best thing that will ever happen. You will go on and as you do these failures and successes will get smaller and smaller. Because it is just four years of what we can hope will be a long, beautiful life.

As you go with Lee through her experience, you want to hug her and tell her “this too shall pass” (or something equally cheesy).  And though you know she would just roll her eyes at you and think “whatever, weirdo” you also know that secretly, deep-down, she will think “oh thank God.”

Other reviews to check out: 


Entry filed under: August 2013 reads. Tags: , , , .

Judging a book by the cover is dangerous business – “The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty Yelling at books is a form of therapy – “Big Brother” by Lionel Shriver

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