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Prep: A Novelby Curtis Sittenfeld
"The best thing about this novel, and there are many very good things, is its strikingly intelligent voice. Sittenfeld nails the neurosis of adolescence with an unusual and appropriate tone....Sittenfeld's depiction of complex relationships is welcome; her characters are nuanced, pathetic, hilarious, and, above all, genuine. Prep is an extremely talented debut from a writer to keep an eye on for her sense of humor and empathy as well as her sociological critique."
Synopses & Reviews
Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, Prep, is an insightful, achingly funny coming-of-age story as well as a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender in a hothouse of adolescent angst and ambition.
Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She leaves her animated, affectionate family in South Bend, Indiana, at least in part because of the boarding school’s glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on pristinely mown athletic fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.
As Lee soon learns, Ault is a cloistered world of jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of — and, ultimately, a participant in — their rituals and mores. As a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider and is both drawn to and repelled by other loners. By the time she’s a senior, Lee has created a hard-won place for herself at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her carefully crafted identity within the community is shattered.
Ultimately, Lee’s experiences — 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; conflicts with her parents, from whom Lee feels increasingly distant, coalesce into a singular portrait of the painful and thrilling adolescence universal to us all.
"A self-conscious outsider navigates the choppy waters of adolescence and a posh boarding school's social politics in Sittenfeld's A-grade coming-of-age debut. The strong narrative voice belongs to Lee Fiora, who leaves South Bend, Ind., for Boston's prestigious Ault School and finds her sense of identity supremely challenged. Now, at 24, she recounts her years learning 'everything I needed to know about attracting and alienating people.' Sittenfeld neither indulges nor mocks teen angst, but hits it spot on: 'I was terrified of unwittingly leaving behind a piece of scrap paper on which were written all my private desires and humiliations. The fact that no such scrap of paper existed... never decreased my fear.' Lee sees herself as 'one of the mild, boring, peripheral girls' among her privileged classmates, especially the uber-popular Aspeth Montgomery, 'the kind of girl about whom rock songs were written,' and Cross Sugarman, the boy who can devastate with one look ('my life since then has been spent in pursuit of that look'). Her reminiscences, still youthful but more wise, allow her to validate her feelings of loneliness and misery while forgiving herself for her lack of experience and knowledge. The book meanders on its way, light on plot but saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld, who won Seventeen's fiction contest at 16, proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book. Agent, Shana Kelly. (Jan. 18)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The boarding-school formula allows newcomer Sittenfeld the comforting slippers-and-ice-cream haven of chick-lit while allowing much more in the way of psychological insight. Teenaged years served up without sugar: a class act." Kirkus Reviews
"Curtis Sittenfeld is a young writer with a crazy amount of talent. Her sharp and economical prose reminds us of Joan Didion and Tobias Wolff. Like them, she has a sly and potent wit, which cuts unexpectedly — but often — through the placid surface of her prose. Her voice is strong and clear, her moral compass steady; I?d believe anything she told me." Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
"Funny, excruciatingly honest, improbably sexy, and studded with hard-won, eccentric wisdom about high school, heartbreak, and social privilege. One of the most impressive debut novels in recent memory." Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Election
"In her deeply involving first novel, Curtis Sittenfeld invites us inside the fearsome echo chamber of adolescent self-consciousness. But Prep is more than a coming of age story — it's a study of social class in America, and Sittenfeld renders it with astonishing deftness and clarity." Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me
"Speaking in a voice as authentic as Salinger's Holden Caulfield and McCullers' Mick Kelly, Curtis Sittenfeld's Lee Fiora tells unsugared truths about adolescence, alienation, and the sociology of privilege. Prep's every sentence rings true. Sittenfeld is a rising star." Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True
"Sittenfeld ensconces the reader deep in the world of the Ault School and the churning mind of Lee Fiora (a teenager as complex and nuanced as those of Salinger), capturing every vicissitude of her life with the precision of a brilliant documentary and the delicacy and strength of a poem." Thisbe Nissen, author of Osprey Island
"Prep does something considerable in the realm of discussing class in American culture. The ethnography on adolescence is done in pitch-perfect detail. Stunning and lucid." Matthew Klam, author of Sam the Cat
"Open Prep and you'll travel back in time: Sittenfeld's novel is funny, smart, poignant, and tightly woven together, with a very appealing sense of melancholy." Jill A. Davis, author of Girls' Poker Night
"[S]imply too predictable. Saving the book from formula, however, are some fine writing and assorted shrewd insights into both the psychology of adolescence and the privileged world of a traditional prep school." Booklist
"To interest adult readers, a novel like this needs something special: Holden Caulfield's voice, say, or the literary flair of Tobias Wolff's Old School. Here, events add up to little more than a familiar picture." Library Journal
"What is of interest, and why Prep deserves pride of place on any summer recommended reading list, is the incisive and evenhanded way in which Sittenfeld explores issues of class." Elissa Schappell, The New York Times Book Review
A perceptive, achingly funny first novel featuring a middle-class Midwestern teenager trying to fit in at an elite East Coast boarding school, Prep is also a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender in a hothouse of adolescent angst and ambition.
About the Author
Curtis Sittenfeld won the Seventeen magazine fiction writing contest in 1992, at age sixteen, and The Mississippi Review's annual fiction contest in 1998. Her writing has appeared in Fast Company, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Salon, and Real Simple, and on public radio's This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she is the recipient of a Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award. Sittenfeld was the 20022003 writer in residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., where she continues to work part-time as an English teacher.
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