Sunday, 8 July 2012

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Lee Fiora is a smart fourteen year old who dreams of the life of privilege and happiness promised by the glossy magazines for East Coast boarding schools.  When she is accepted to Ault on a scholarship, she has high expectations for her fantastic new life but is soon overwhelmed by those around her.  Lee retreats into a shell, becoming hyper-sensitive to others and unwilling to draw any attention to herself.  She is both fascinated by and contemptuous of the wealth and intelligence of her new class mates and gets into a serious of intensely one-sided relationships with her peers.  At heart a coming of age story, Prep also has a lot to say about closed and exclusive environments.

I'm going to come right out and say that I liked Prep a lot and the main reason for this was that I could identify with Lee completely. At primary school, I was picked out as a 'bright' pupil and encouraged to apply for a selective secondary school where I had to take a series of exams and attend a few interviews to get in.  It wasn't a fee-paying school like Lee's, but it was by far and away the best school in the area in terms of results and wealthy parents got tutors for their children to help them get in.  I was the only person in my new class who hadn't been tutored and I was the poorest person there by quite a way.  Don't get me wrong, my family never struggled, but I was surrounded by people who jetted to the Alps for skiing during half term holidays and spent the summer on Carribean islands; I dreaded the 'what did you do on your holidays?' conversation every September.  Like Lee, I might have developed a bit of a chip on my shoulder and become defensive in the face of so much privilege.

I was also socially awkward as a teen and any shy person will find it easy to relate to Lee.  I understand why other readers find her frustrating as a main character but shyness is not a logical thing - I too used to desperately wish not to be noticed by others and then feel lonely when no one did.  I too was hyper aware of others and thought they they would be hyper aware of me when confident people just don't feel that way.  So whilst at times I wanted to shake Lee, I found her completely believable and reading the book was a bit like revisiting my own teenage years.

That's not to say the book was without fault; the characterisation was excellent but the plot could have done with tightening up a bit.  In the middle sections it dragged and didn't seem to be heading in any clear direction.  Prep was a long book at 400+ pages and could have comfortably lost a hundred of them without the reading experience suffering.

Prep is a book that's not going to work for everyone.  It will work best for fans of The Bell Jar, or for keen observers of human nature, or for anyone who has ever felt shy or underwhelming around others.

Source: Library
First Published: 2005
Score: 4 out of 5

8 comments:

  1. This sounds great. I'm tres keen to read it, especially because I LOVED 'American Wife', and, like you, have occasionally felt like the poor relation :)

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    1. Ooh, is American Wife good? I loved the writing in Prep, so I'm keen to try another book by her.

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  2. I can definitely relate to being shy, but have never been to any sort of prep school (always thought it would be cool in my naive younger days).

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    1. There is a bit of glamour around prep schools, isn't there? I wonder if there is a correlation between being shy and loving to read because it seems like it's a pretty common trait amongst book bloggers at least.

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  3. Reading this post and then reading your post about whether or not you have to like the main character to like a book has me wondering if it is possible to OVER-identify with a character--to the point that it makes you uncomfortable (and then end up not liking the book). From your description I could see that happening to me in this book!

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    1. Lauren, that was true for me at parts, especially as the book made to relive parts of my teenage years and that's not always a good thing! But it certainly made the reading experience worthwhile.

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this review, particularly the bit about your experiences in that 'fancy' school. :) I usually only read about people who vacation in Carribean islands, and I can't imagine having to deal with them on a daily basis. That must have been quite an interesting experience.

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