Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: Prep

Title: Prep
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: A-

Abbreviated Summary (from BN.com): 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.

Review: So when this book first came out in 2005 it kind of blew Curtis Sittenfeld into the collective consciousness of those writers who are biting/satirical/jaded/cynical/etc. (see Jonathan Franzen, et. al.), and paved the way for her new book, American Wife, that's all over the place right now. I put off reading this book for a long time because to me it seemed like YA literature, something I wasn't into reading until recently; what's funny (in an ironic way, not the ha-ha way) is that this book, although abount a prep high school, isn't really YA literature. Sittenfeld's writing style isn't really directed at teens (although I think teens could really learn something from this book) because it's written in the position of a retrospective of the protagonist who is dissecting what happened during her high school experience and the lessons she learned. This is compared to the traditional YA vein of writing about high school experiences while the characters are relatively in the midst of those experiences.

Lee was an off-beat, charming character... somebody that you (or at least I) can totally relate to, someone who's way too in their own head, dissecting everything, worrying about how others perceive her, probably to the extent that she's missing experiences because of all that inner monologue. The only relationship that was hard for me to get was her friendship with her roommate Martha, who was a totally redeeming person, but they were always caught in this kind of subversive classism (because Lee sees herself in that way). It was hard for me to read some of those scenes, especially when they were juxtaposed with scenes where they had a really honest and vulnerable relationship; although that's kind of how life goes sometimes.

The relationship between Lee and Cross Sugarman (really, that's the guy's name) was interesting. I kind of got in to Cross because, in all actuality (and this is going to sound harsh, but Lee's a fictional character, so whatever) he probably was too good for her because she thought he was--she didn't think she deserved him, which is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy. Toward the end of the book Lee is still coming through as needy and desperate (the scenes at senior week after graduation were painful to read) and Cross doesn't want needy and desperate... what guy does? It's not until a good deal later in life that the character of Lee starts to get a little backbone, but she does eventually come around.

I'll be honest, I wanted to cry at the end of the book. I was sad it was over. I had grown to love the characters, especially Martha and Cross. And Aubrey--I had a big thing for Aubrey's earnestness. To me, that's a pretty good indicator that the book was remarkable, if you're sad when it's over. The only reduction came from the character of Lee (see the paragraph above) because she was too slow to learn, which caused the book to drag in parts and brought down other characters unnecessarily. The scene between Lee and Darden on the steps during the Senior balloon release could have been 100% awesome, but Lee was being stupid and she jacked it all up.

I would really highly recommend this book to a lot of people, those people all being people who can stand to read about high schoolers doing things that high schoolers probably have no business doing. If you know what I mean.

1 comment:

Sabrina said...

I read this when it first came out. I liked it a lot... We actually talked about it at our book club meeting last night. But i have forgotten so much of the stoty, but i know i liked it at the time.