Feb 28, 2011


Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

My rating: 3 stars

Review from back cover: Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when she leaves her family behind in Indiana to attend the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. Over the next four years, her experiences at Ault - 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 - coalesce into a singular portrait of the universal pains and thrills of adolescence.

I got this book from participating in Stephany's blogger book swap. (Stephany hosted the swap and assigned people - so I received this book from Kathleen, and I sent one to Kate). A few years ago I tried to read this book but for some reason I couldn't get into it, so it was kind of nice to have a "second chance" with it. Sittenfeld is the same author who wrote American Wife, and I'd say my reactions to this book were similar to how I felt about the other one. Overall the story was good, but I'm still a little unsure of how I feel about it even though I finished reading it almost two weeks ago.

There were parts that were really great - where I could totally relate to Lee (the main character) and even laughed because I did some of the same stuff in high school. For instance, there's a part where Lee's parents visit her, and I was cracking up, not because it was a funny scene, but because I remember being that bratty with my parents too. (Sorry guys!)

There was a big emphasis on Lee being from the Midwest, and Ault being in Massachusetts. I was born and raised on the East Coast, but both my parents are from the Midwest and that's where the majority of my extended family still lives. In that same scene with her parents, she mouths off to her mom, and instead of her dad saying, "excuse me," or "what did you just say?" he said, "I beg your pardon?" and it felt like I was the one getting chastised! I don't know if that's a Midwestern thing or not, but my dad would say that all the time when I was growing up, and that's how I knew I was in trouble - Sittenfeld captured that tone perfectly.

There were nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, things I remember thinking or feeling in high school, like:

"I think adults forget just how much faith teenagers can have in them, just how willing to believe that adults, by virtue of being adults, know absolute truths, or that absolute truths are even knowable." (Pg. 299)

However, the book was a little long - and it took you through all four years of Lee being at Ault. I've always been a pretty confident person, and I know not everyone feels that way, especially in high school, and Lee was quirky for sure, but there were times she was downright neurotic. She drove me crazy, and I found myself wondering if all high school kids are this messed up, because if so they should all be seeing therapists. It's not like I expected Lee to be a totally mature and developed person at the end of her four years in high school, but I expected a change in her somehow and I didn't really see that - which made me frustrated and wondering what was the point of her story.

As a reader you didn't see anything that happened to Lee after she graduated, so I appreciated the times throughout the novel where Lee inserted herself (as if she were telling the story). She'd say things like, "it wasn't until ten years later when [name] and I were talking over coffee, that I realized how ridiculous it was," or something to that extent. Just a little tidbit of information to reassure me that she did turn out to be a somewhat normal adult.

My favorite of those instances was near the end of the book:

"To play a great game of high school basketball - it was something I myself had never done, but I could tell - made you know what it was to be alive. How much in adult life can compare to that? Granted, there are margaritas, or there's no homework, but there are also puffy white bagels under neon lights in the conference room, there's waiting for the plumber, making small talk with your boring neighbor." (Pg. 321)

It's simplistic, but kind of true, don't you think?

I feel like this review is all over the place, but I think that fits because that's a little how the story is as well. Again, not the best book I've read, but not the worst either - and an interesting (if a little bit weird) of a read.

Have you ever read Prep? What did you think? (And thanks again to Stephany for hosting the book swap!)

(Photo: Walking Around)


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I haven't read Prep... I did read American Wife, though, which I really really enjoyed! Good review!

Katie said...

I have read it! Liked it, especially as a Midwesterner :) And yes, most high schoolers are as crazy as Lee seems. That's why I teach kindergarten :)

Lucy The Valiant said...

I almost picked up American Wife the other day, but I couldn't tell if I was going to like it or not! This sounds interesting, though, and I do love some high school angst!

Brittany said...

i read prep a few years ago and hated it, basically for the reason you mentioned - that the character didn't seem to change by the end. but then i revisited it a few months ago after reading the rest of sittenfeld's books and deciding i loved her, and i really liked the book the 2nd time around. lee is an endlessly frustrating character and yes, neurotic - but at the same time, if she had changed by the end, i don't think i would have liked the book any better.

whatever the case, prep has stayed with me long after finishing it. when you say you were left wondering what the point was, i think that's what sticks with me - thinking about just what the heck sittenfeld was trying to say.

i'm from the east coast but my husband was born and raised in kansas. people are just soo polite out there! it definitely made me reflect on how people here are different from the midwest, and making sure to be mindful of my manners around dan's family, who are such warm people, and don't always understand my east-coast ways.

WHEW this is getting long but i was excited to see a discussion of this book that i could participate in!

Suburban Sweetheart said...

I adored "Prep." I actually sent it to Erin as part of the swap!

I confess to being a terrible swap partner. I moved this month & all of my books are still packed - I read the first 20 pages of "The Same Sweet Girls" (which I liked) but now don't even know which box it's in! Oy.

Amber said...

Sounds like an interesting read. 4 years is a REALLY long time to put in one book so I would be interested to check it out and see how she did that!

I remember being SO BRATTY to my parents too. Omg. It makes me cringe now to think about how rude I was :S

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

I read Prep in college and I liked it but I liked American Wife better. One thing that annoys me about Sittenfeld (I read another book by her of which I can't remember the name haha) is that she always has kind of weak and a little crazy female characters. I don't mean to be a crazy feminist but it gets annoying sometimes. Great review though :)

Stephany said...

Great review, Becky! :) This one is actually on my to-reads list.

Sometimes, it kind of frustrates me when authors make teenagers so incredibly whacked-out. I don't know...maybe because I know a lot of teenagers (and people!) who aren't so crazy that it's like they're trying to be "too real" and it comes off as psycho.

Still, I'm going to check this book out and see how I feel about it!

Gracie said...

I love that picture and I want to live there.

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