Book 5: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Page Count: About 400
Genre: Young Adult/Literary Fiction
Prep tells the story of Lee Fiora, a socially awkward teenager from Indiana who gets a scholarship to attend the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. There, she struggles to find her place at the boarding school, feeling left out because she’s not wealthy or pretty like most of her classmates. As much a novel about class and race as it is about growing up, Prep is one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.
This is the second time I’ve read this book. The first was a few years ago, when I was a freshman in college. I enjoyed it then up until the last chapter, which is when I no longer felt like I could relate to the main character, Lee. Now that I’ve lived a bit longer and have actually had a relationship, though, I no longer feel like the last chapter is out of place and out of character. It’s still my least favorite part of the book, but that’s only because the rest of the book is so outstanding that the end could be great and still not live up to the rest of it.
To be fair, I feel like I should mention that a lot of people hate this book. They find the main character whiny and self-centered, and they feel like she hasn’t grown at all from the beginning of the book to the end of it. I feel like the people who gave this book low reviews don’t undertsand Lee, though. The reason I love this book so much is because I can relate to the character so well. In an earlier post, I mentioned that one of the reasons I write is because I don’t find characters like me in books.
Lee Fiora is exactly the type of character I have been looking for. She doubts everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. She doesn’t talk to people because she knows that it’s not her place to do so. There were so many momens in this novel that I highlighted because I felt like she was describing something that I had felt a thousand times before.
…I worried that I would take a seat by someone who didn’t want to sit next to me, in class I worried I would say a wrong or foolish thing. I worried that I took too much food at meals, or that I did not disdain the food you were supposed to disdain…I always worried that someone would notice me, and then when no one did, I felt lonely.
I felt like that all the time in high school. Hell, I felt like that in college and still feel like that now. I just don’t see people as much so I don’t have as much opportunity to worry about things like that. People were always complaining about food that I thought looked delicious, so I would only eat it if I was by myself. I ate alone at lunch because I didn’t want to sit with people who might not want me to be there. I rarely join in conversations because I’m so afraid of saying something stupid. I only hang out when I’m pushed into doing it because I’m afraid that the people I’m hanging out with didn’t really want me there to begin with. Which brings me to the next quote:
Of course, now I wonder where I had gotten the idea that for you to participate in a gathering, the other people had to really, really want you to be there and that anything short of rabid enthusiasm on their part meant you’d be a nuisance. Where had I gotten the idea that being a nuisance was that big a deal?
That is a lesson that I’m still trying to learn. I got invited to a party last month, and the entire way there I kept pestering my boyfriend, trying to make sure that the girl who invited us had started drinking after she invited us, because I was afraid that we would get there and she would have forgotten that she had invited us and wouldn’t really want us there.
I realize that a large part of this is about me, not the book that I’m supposed to be reviewing, but the two are so intertwined that I can’t really talk about why I liked the book without talking to me. I feel like the people who don’t like this book are the sorts of people who have always had friends. They might not have been incredibly popular, but they had at least a few friends their whole life. They weren’t constantly afraid of talking to people, of breaking some hidden rule that they weren’t even sure really existed. Even the parts of this book that I hated last time I read it I now realize I only hated because they reminded me of the parts of myself that I hate the most.
This book is not for everyone. People who have never been uncomfortable around people and have no interest in those who have will not like this book. There is sex described in the last hundred pages are so. I wouldn’t say that there’s graphic sex or anything, but it’s definitely more detailed than I had been expecting when I picked up this book. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for middle schoolers (although as a middle schooler, I probably would have enjoyed it). Other than that, I highly recommend people read this book. If you’ve ever known anyone who had social anxiety or avoidant personality disorder (which I’m still half convinced that I have) and/or want to get a closer look into what it’s like to live like that, I recommend this book. Sittenfeld has never said that Lee has either disorder, and there are things that she does (particularly near the end of the book) that someone with SA or APD wouldn’t do. I’m just saying that Lee Fiora is closer to a person with one of those disorders than any character I’ve ever read before, and that’s what makes me appreciate this book so much.