Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book (adult fiction, 2005) is about Lee Fiora’s years at prep school. She’s from small-town Indiana and earns a scholarship to a prestigious school, Ault, which is attended mainly by children of the very rich. We follow Lee through the four years at school and the book finishes just after graduation, with a short discussion of what her fellow students went on to do eventually.

The story is told by an older Lee, looking back at her years at school. Strangely, at the end of the book Lee admits that she doesn’t like to talk about her life at Ault, after having done just that in the previous 470 pages!

Thirteen-year old Lee applies to Ault and is accepted, on a scholarship, to her own great surprise and that of her parents. She liked the idea of going to boarding school, but now that she’s been accepted, she’s not so sure she wants to go. Still, she goes and feels out of place from the start.

Lee is shy, socially awkward and very insecure. This is very frustrating for the reader, but also interesting. Lee misses out on a lot of social life at Ault because she isn’t sure how to behave in various situations, but also, and more importantly, because she cannot imagine that people want her there. She doesn’t understand why her roommate, who is her best friend, wants to hang out with her, as she feels she is a nobody who doesn’t add much to the friendship.

Most of the book is about her awkwardness and about how she manages to survive her years at boarding school. I found it a little odd that the older Lee, the narrator, tells us most of the story without much judgment. I would have found it more realistic if she had regularly remarked how she shouldn’t have done this, or should have understood that, but there is not much critical reflection in the story. There is some, but less than I would have liked.

There is some progress in the story in terms of Lee coping a little better with her circumstances as she gets older, but the main progress is that of the terms (Fall, Winter, Spring), which are given as chapter headings.

In the end, the story is about the school life of a very insecure girl. Because she doesn’t dare do much, nothing much happens, and the main attractions of the book are getting an insider’s view at life at a prep school and being entertained or frustrated by Lee’s inept ways of analyzing social situations and dealing with them. This makes for an interesting story.

I enjoyed reading the book, especially the first half. The rest was nice, but not enough happened to keep me drawn to the book at all times. Towards the end of the book, some things happen that made me expect the worst and I became curious to know the ending.

Just to let you know, I got this copy for free from Transworld Publishers because of the Transworld Summer Reading Challenge.

Rating: 4/5.

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17 Responses to Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

  1. Iris says:

    Like you I liked the first half a lot better. And I liked your suggestion on how she didn’t remark on her behaviour at the time, I think it would have been more realistic too.

    • leeswammes says:

      I’m sure if I’d written the book (as a RL memoir) I would be writing things like “It’s almost too embarrassing to mention now, but ….” or “I was such a silly girl in those days”.

  2. The book sounds interesting, I might have to pick it up — something about boarding schools, you know?

    • leeswammes says:

      Yes, boarding schools are fascinating, Natalie. I loved Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series when I was young and there was another series too! Prep is not for kids though, it’s definitely an adult book. Well, I think an adult would get more out of the book, at least.

  3. Helen says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this – it’s one of my choices for the Transworld challenge too, so it’s good to know that you enjoyed it!

  4. JoAnn says:

    I’ve seen this book around, but this maybe the first review I’ve read. Have always been fascinated with the idea of boarding schools and loved reading books with that type of setting when I was growing up. Not sure if I’ll pick this up… it does seem odd that this is told like a memoir without including her perspective as an adult ‘looking back’.

    • leeswammes says:

      Yes, that was a bit odd, JoAnn, but I found the book quite interesting anyway. It was fun to read. Maybe it helps that I used to be a bit shy when I was young!

  5. How interesting – I liked the second half of the book more than the first half. I didn’t understand the ‘why’ to most of the story (what were the haircuts so important – they were painful to read… she was terribly awkward).

    I had heard such great things about this book that I really wanted to read it – I enjoyed American Wife much more!

  6. Wallace says:

    SO interesting that you said the first half of the book was better. That’s the half I got through! I read this a few years ago (or started it) and it is still on my shelf. I would like to go back and finish. Have you read Sittenfield’s American Wife? It’s a fictional portrayal of Laura Bush, that happened to be pretty accurate. It got a lot of press over here, though I doubt it was as talked about in other countries. I think Sittenfield did a great job, and although the Bushes probably weren’t thrilled… I found it very interesting and make Mrs. Bush more human.

    • leeswammes says:

      Wallace, I haven’t read American Wife. I did see it around book shops in England, but I’m not sure about here in the Netherlands. I’m not particularly interested in the Bushes, but I might still read it. I liked Prep so another book by this author might be worth reading.

      • Wallace says:

        Yes, I imagine it wouldn’t be as interesting to others as it was to us (here in the States), then again many people around the world have some strong opinions about the Bushes — so this would give some insight. It is quite different from Prep. If you are not at all interested in the Bushes, I wouldn’t pick it up. It’s almost like a biography (and much of it was true, I did research as I was reading it).

      • leeswammes says:

        Thanks, Wallace. I do have no interest at all in the Bushes, so I will leave the book well alone. I don’t even like biographies of people I am interested in, most of the time!

  7. Bookjourney says:

    I have this one coming to me from the Library. Good review!

  8. Jenny says:

    Oh, I remember reading this book when I was in high school and it made me so sad for some reason. I’ll have to give this a second read and see if it’s any different for me years later. I enjoyed reading your review!

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