Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book 63: Prep

NUMBER: 63
TITLE: Prep
AUTHOR: Curtis Sittenfeld
STARTED: August 2, 2006
FINISHED: August 7, 2006
PAGES: 406
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.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. 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.

REASON FOR READING: Rose loaned it to me after I expressed an interest.

THOUGHTS: It took me a long time to decide if I actually liked this book. In fact, it wasn't until the last quarter of the book that I decided I loved Lee, the main character. For me, while the plot was nothing new or groundbreaking, the way Sittenfeld uses her character makes Prep a must read.

Throughout the novel, I found myself frustrated and generally embarrassed for Lee. Her actions, her thoughts, and her outlook on life betray the very heart and soul of her character. That is the strength of Sittenfeld's work - her character is so flawed that you can't help but want to read about her life. Her she is, on a beautiful campus, being offered and opportunity of a lifetime and she screws it up. Lee is so busy being concerned about her "place" at Ault that she forgets to live. One passage reads:

"That's a nice sweater," he said. "Is it cashmere?" He pronounced it right, but he said it jokily, as if he'd never used the word before. And in fact, the sweater was acrylic. But he assumed - I'd sensed this before and now I was sure - that I was rich, that I was one of the true Ault students.

Lee wants so much to belong that she does not even try. She wants to conform to what everyone's expectations of her are, and she fulfills those expectations by forgetting to be herself.

I often messed up with people, it was true, it rarely happens because I was reading them wrong; it was because I got nervous, or because I could see too clearly that I was not what they wanted.

Sittenfeld makes it clear that Lee is not a character to be pitied. She is a human being who simple does not know her own potential. That is the heart of the novel, and seeing Lee's struggle makes for a glorious read.

MISCELLANEOUS: All the characters in this book had some random names

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to Rose
RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

CR: His Duty, Her Destiny by Juliette Landon
RN: Probably another romance novel

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