When I picked up Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld I thought I was in for a light read. Girl goes to High School and leaves enlightened and changed. Published by Random House, Prep earned the title of One of the Ten Best Book of the Year (2005) by The New York Times Book Review. After finishing this quick read and allowing it to sink in, I realized this novel reaches much deeper issues.
Detailing the experiences of a midwestern girl on scholarship at a prestigious prep school on the East Coast, Prep is a modern day commentary on social class conflict. Sittenfeld forces the reader to question and challenge their wider social world.
After I began reading, it was hard for me to put this novel down. I was truly engaged and wanted to know what would happen to our main character, Lee Fiora.
Lee finds herself at Ault as a shy, awkward insecure 14-year-old. Of course she changes over the next four years, but these changes are ever so subtle and slow that it is realistic.
I also liked that Sittenfeld portrayed Lee as having ”wisdom beyond her years,” regardless of the cliché. It is refreshing to find an author who puts so much faith in today’s youth. For instance, as Lee reflects on a relationship she had ended with a boy who worked in the kitchen at Ault (and didn’t attend the school - a reason to end it as others in her class began to judge her) she considers, “I was wrong, I screwed up – how else can I say it? But there was plenty I learned from Dave. Later, after all that happened between Cross Sugerman and me, I even saw Dave as practice for Cross, as preparation. He made me ready; there are many people we treat wrong, and later, we’re prepared to treat other people right. Perhaps this sounds mercenary, but I feel grateful for these trial relationships, and I would like to think it all evens out – surely, unknowingly, I have served as practice for other people.
The idea of certain relationships preparing, or prepping, you for others is not a thought that crossed my mind at the age of 15. However it is an idea I believe in. There is no way you can prepare for a mature relationship without experiencing the immature ones first. This is not to say each relationship after an immature one will prove to be the ladder, but it does make you think back to those “practice” relationships and how they changed those that would follow. I believe this goes for romantic relationship as well as friendships.
Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who has forgotten what it is like to be awkward and unsure of your place in the world. This book will make you think long after you have closed it. While there are many coming of age novels out there, Sittenfeld tells this story so well. I believe the quality of this book lies in its realism.