Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld, tells the story of Lee Fiora, an overly-neurotic, middle-class, teenage girl struggling to fit in at her high-class preparatory school, Ault. Lee tries incredibly hard to be accepted by her peers, over-analyzing everything anyone says or does, being constantly aware of her un-coolness, and painfully critical of herself.
This book was particularly fascinating because boarding school is not something especially well-understood in more rural areas like Idaho and other Mid- and Northwest states. TV shows like “Gossip Girl” glamorize the idea into something that seems not only unreal, but also unattainable and therefore not even considered by many. Reading this story makes the idea real and less strange to those of us who didn’t grow up already understanding. This difference is even commented on by a character recognizing her rural upbringing, albeit in a slightly offensive quote (at least to those who grew up in Boise or other urban environments in Idaho):
“I’m from Idaho, and I was the biggest hayseed when I got here… I practically arrived on a tractor.”
Lee’s experience is unique because it can speak to all social groups of teenagers, male or female. Her own perspective is somewhere between popular and socially rejected, so she feels the woes of both worlds at all times. She feels as though she doesn’t fit in, but at times it seems as though she could. Since the book follows Lee through all four years of high school, it doesn’t conform to the traditional story model with one main plotline, climax, and resolution. There are several peaks in the story, artfully written so that the reader is inclined to continue reading and see how everything turns out.
Parents would also gain a lot of insight from reading Lee’s story, as it offers perspective into what often goes on inside teenagers’ heads that they don’t always talk about. High-schoolers are usually a world apart from their parents. Sittenfeld’s book offers one possible way to help bridge that gap, despite the fact that this story takes place at a private preparatory school and not a public high school.
One warning about the novel: it is very realistic in its depictions of what goes on behind closed doors between males and females. Because this story goes up through Lee’s senior year at Ault, readers should be prepared for some sexual content. As they say in the movies, it’s rated PG-13 at least.