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Prep: A Novel

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ISBN13: 9780812972351
ISBN10: 081297235x
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Excerpt

1. Thieves
Freshman fall

I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up. Ancient History was my first class of the day, occurring after morning chapel and roll call, which was not actually roll call but a series of announcements that took place in an enormous room with twenty-foot-high Palladian windows, rows and rows of desks with hinged tops that you lifted to store your books inside, and mahogany panels on the walls?one for each class since Ault?s founding in 1882?engraved with the name of every person who had graduated from the school. The two senior prefects led roll call, standing at a desk on a platform and calling on the people who?d signed up ahead of time to make announcements. My own desk, assigned alphabetically, was near the platform, and because I didn?t talk to my classmates who sat around me, I spent the lull before roll call listening to the prefects? exchanges with teachers or other students or each other. The prefects? names were Henry Thorpe and Gates Medkowski. It was my fourth week at the school, and I didn?t know much about Ault, but I did know that Gates was the first girl in Ault?s history to have been elected prefect.

The teachers? announcements were straightforward and succinct: Please remember that your adviser request forms are due by noon on Thursday. The students? announcements were lengthy?the longer roll call was, the shorter first period would be?and filled with double entendres: Boys? soccer is practicing on Coates Field today, which, if you don?t know where it is, is behind the headmaster?s house, and if you still don?t know where it is, ask Fred. Where are you, Fred? You wanna raise your hand, man? There?s Fred, everyone see Fred? Okay, so Coates Field. And remember?bring your balls.

When the announcements were finished, Henry or Gates pressed a button on the side of the desk, like a doorbell, there was a ringing throughout the schoolhouse, and we all shuffled off to class. In Ancient History, we were making presentations on different topics, and I was one of the students presenting that day. From a library book, I had copied pictures of the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Baths of Diocletian, then glued the pictures onto a piece of poster board and outlined the edges with green and yellow markers. The night before, I?d stood in front of the mirror in the dorm bathroom practicing what I?d say, but then someone had come in, and I?d pretended I was washing my hands and left.

I was third; right before me was Jamie Lorison. Mrs. Van der Hoef had set a podium in the front of the classroom, and Jamie stood behind it, clutching index cards. ?It is a tribute to the genius of Roman architects,? he began, ?that many of the buildings they designed more than two thousand years ago still exist today for modern peoples to visit and enjoy.?

My heart lurched. The genius of Roman architects was my topic, not Jamie?s. I had difficulty listening as he continued, though certain familiar phrases emerged: the aqueducts, which were built to transport water . . . the Colosseum, originally called the Flavian Amphitheater . . .

Mrs. Van der Hoef was standing to my left, and I leaned toward her and whispered, ?Excuse me.?

She seemed not to have heard me.

?Mrs. Van der Hoef?? Then?later, this gesture seemed particularly humiliating?I reached out to touch her forearm. She was wearing a maroon silk dress with a collar and a skinny maroon belt, and I only brushed my fingers against the silk, but she drew back as if I?d pinched her. She glared at me, shook her head, and took several steps away.

?I?d like to pass around some pictures,? I heard Jamie say. He lifted a stack of books from the floor. When he opened them, I saw colored pictures of the same buildings I had copied in black-and-white and stuck to poster board.

Then his presentation ended. Until that day, I had never felt anything about Jamie Lorison, who was red-haired and skinny and breathed loudly, but as I watched him take his seat, a mild, contented expression on his face, I loathed him.

?Lee Fiora, I believe you?re next,? Mrs. Van der Hoef said.

?See, the thing is,? I began, ?maybe there?s a problem.?

I could feel my classmates looking at me with growing interest. Ault prided itself on, among other things, its teacher-student ratio, and there were only twelve of us in the class. When all their eyes were on me at once, however, that did not seem like such a small number.

?I just can?t go,? I finally said.

?I beg your pardon?? Mrs. Van der Hoef was in her late fifties, a tall, thin woman with a bony nose. I?d heard that she was the widow of a famous archaeologist, not that any archaeologists were famous to me.

?See, my presentation is?or it was going to be?I thought I was supposed to talk about?but maybe, now that Jamie??

?You?re not making sense, Miss Fiora,? Mrs. Van der Hoef said. ?You need to speak clearly.?

?If I go, I?ll be saying the same thing as Jamie.?

?But you?re presenting on a different topic.?

?Actually, I?m talking about architecture, too.?

She walked to her desk and ran her finger down a piece of paper. I had been looking at her while we spoke, and now that she had turned away, I didn?t know what to do with my eyes. My classmates were still watching me. During the school year so far, I?d spoken in classes only when I was called on, which was not often; the other kids at Ault were enthusiastic about participating. Back in my junior high in South Bend, Indiana, many classes had felt like one-on-one discussions between the teacher and me, while the rest of the students daydreamed or doodled. Here, the fact that I did the reading didn?t distinguish me. In fact, nothing distinguished me. And now, in my most lengthy discourse to date, I was revealing myself to be strange and stupid.

?You?re not presenting on architecture,? Mrs. Van der Hoef said. ?You?re presenting on athletics.?

?Athletics?? I repeated. There was no way I?d have volunteered for such a topic.

She thrust the sheet of paper at me, and there was my name, Lee Fiora?Athletics, in her writing, just below James Lorison?Architecture. We?d signed up for topics by raising our hands in class; clearly, she had misunderstood me.

?I could do athletics,? I said uncertainly. ?Tomorrow I could do them.?

?Are you suggesting that the students presenting tomorrow have their time reduced on your behalf??

?No, no, of course not. But maybe a different day, or maybe?I could do it whenever. Just not today. All I?d be able to talk about today is architecture.?

?Then you?ll be talking about architecture. Please use the lectern.?

I stared at her. ?But Jamie just went.?

?Miss Fiora, you are wasting class time.?

As I stood and gathered my notebook and poster board, I thought about how coming to Ault had been an enormous error. I would never have friends; the best I?d be able to hope for from my classmates would be pity. It had already been obvious to me that I was different from them, but I?d imagined that I could lie low for a while, getting a sense of them, then reinvent myself in their image. Now I?d been uncovered.

I gripped either side of the podium and looked down at my notes. ?One of the most famous examples of Roman architecture is the Colosseum,? I began. ?Historians believe that the Colosseum was called the Colosseum because of a large statue of the Colossus of Nero which was located nearby.? I looked up from my notes. The faces of my classmates were neither kind nor unkind, sympathetic nor unsympathetic, engaged nor bored.

?The Colosseum was the site of shows held by the emperor or other aristocrats. The most famous of these shows was?? I paused. Ever since childhood, I have felt the onset of tears in my chin, and, at this moment, it was shaking. But I was not going to cry in front of strangers. ?Excuse me,? I said, and I left the classroom.

There was a girls? bathroom across the hall, but I knew not to go in there because I would be too easy to find. I ducked into the stairwell and hurried down the steps to the first floor and out a side door. Outside it was sunny and cool, and with almost everyone in class, the campus felt pleasantly empty. I jogged toward my dorm. Maybe I would leave altogether: hitchhike to Boston, catch a bus, ride back home to Indiana. Fall in the Midwest would be pretty but not overly pretty?not like in New England, where they called the leaves foliage. Back in South Bend, my younger brothers would be spending the evenings kicking the soccer ball in the backyard and coming in for dinner smelling like boy-sweat; they?d be deciding on their Halloween costumes, and when my father carved the pumpkin, he would hold the knife over his head and stagger toward my brothers with a maniacal expression on his face, and as they ran shrieking into the other room, my mother would say, ?Terry, quit scaring them.?

I reached the courtyard. Broussard?s dorm was one of eight on the east side of campus, four boys? dorms and four girls? dorms forming a square, with granite benches in the middle. When I looked out the window of my room, I often saw couples using the benches, the boy sitting with his legs spread in front of him, the girl standing between his legs, her hands perhaps set on his shoulders briefly, before she laughed and lifted them. At this moment, only one of the benches was occupied. A girl in cowboy boots and a long skirt lay on her back, one knee propped up in a triangle, one arm slung over her eyes.

As I passed, she lifted her arm. It was Gates Medkowski. ?Hey,? she said.

We almost made eye contact, but then we didn?t. It made me unsure of whether she was addressing me, which was an uncertainty I often felt when spoken to. I kept walking.

?Hey,? she said again. ?Who do you think I?m talking to? We?re the only ones here.? But her voice was kind; she wasn?t making fun of me.

?Sorry,? I said.

?Are you a freshman??

I nodded.

?Are you going to your dorm right now??

I nodded again.

?I assume you don?t know this, but you?re not allowed in the dorm during classes.? She swung her legs around, righting herself. ?None of us are,? she said. ?For Byzantine reasons that I wouldn?t even try to guess at. Seniors are allowed to roam, but roaming only means outside, the library, or the mail room, so that?s a joke.?

I said nothing.

?Are you okay?? she asked.

?Yes,? I said and began to cry.

?Oh God,? Gates said. ?I didn?t mean to upset you. Here, come sit down.? She was patting the bench beside her, and then she stood, walked toward me, set one arm around my back?my shoulders were heaving?and guided me toward the bench. When we were sitting, she passed me a blue bandanna that smelled of incense; even through the blur of my tears, I was interested by the fact that she carried this accessory. I hesitated to blow my nose?my snot would be on Gates Medkowski?s bandanna?but my whole face seemed to be leaking.

?What?s your name?? she said.

?Lee.? My voice was high and shaky.

?So what?s wrong? Why aren?t you in class or study hall??

?Nothing?s wrong.?

She laughed. ?For some reason, I don?t think that?s true.?

When I told her what had happened, she said, ?Van der Hoef likes to come off like the dragon lady. God knows why. Maybe it?s menopause. But she?s actually pretty nice most of the time.?

?I don?t think she likes me.?

?Oh, don?t worry. It?s still so early in the school year. She?ll have forgotten all about this by November.?

?But I left in the middle of class,? I said.

Gates waved one hand through the air. ?Don?t even think about it,? she said. ?The teachers here have seen everything. We imagine ourselves as distinct entities, but in their eyes, we merge into a great mass of adolescent neediness. You know what I mean??

I nodded, though I was pretty sure I had no idea; I?d never heard someone close to my own age talk the way she was talking.

?Ault can be a tough place,? she said. ?Especially at first.?

At this, I felt a new rush of tears. She knew. I blinked several times.

?It?s like that for everyone,? she said.

I looked at her, and, as I did, I realized for the first time that she was very attractive: not pretty exactly, but striking, or maybe handsome. She was nearly six feet tall and had pale skin, fine features, eyes of such a washed-out blue they were almost gray, and a massive amount of long light brown hair that was a rough texture and unevenly cut; in places, in the sunlight, there were glints of gold in it. As we?d been talking, she?d pulled it into a high, loose bun with shorter pieces of hair falling around her face. In my own experience, creating such a perfectly messy bun required a good fifteen minutes of maneuvering before a mirror. But everything about Gates seemed effortless. ?I?m from Idaho, and I was the biggest hayseed when I got here,? she was saying. ?I practically arrived on a tractor.?

?I?m from Indiana,? I said.

?See, you must be way cooler than I was because at least Indiana is closer to the East Coast than Idaho.?

?But people here have been to Idaho. They ski there.? I knew this because Dede Schwartz, one of my two roommates, kept on her desk a framed picture of her family standing on a snowy slope, wearing sunglasses and holding poles. When I?d asked her where it was taken, she?d said Sun Valley, and when I?d looked up Sun Valley in my atlas, I?d learned it was in Idaho.

?True,? Gates said. ?But I?m not from the mountains. Anyway, the important thing to remember about Ault is why you applied in the first place. It was for the academics, right? I don?t know where you were before, but Ault beats the hell out of the public high school in my town. As for the politics here, what can you do? There?s a lot of posturing, but it?s all kind of meaningless.?

I wasn?t certain what she meant by posturing?it made me think of a row of girls in long white nightgowns, standing up very straight and balancing hardcover books on their heads.

Gates looked at her watch, a man?s sports watch with black plastic straps. ?Listen,? she said. ?I better get going. I have Greek second period. What?s your next class??

?Algebra. But I left my backpack in Ancient History.?

?Just grab it when the bell rings. Don?t worry about talking to Van der Hoef. You can sort things out with her later, after you?ve both cooled off.?

She stood, and I stood, too. We started walking back toward the schoolhouse?it seemed I was not returning to South Bend after all, at least not today. We passed the roll call room, which during the school day functioned as the study hall. I wondered if any of the students were looking out the window, watching me walk with Gates Medkowski.

Copyright © 2005 by Curtis Sittenfeld

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ariana16, December 4, 2008 (view all comments by ariana16)
This book was very interesting and I never understood why she kept hope for Cross through all those years. In the end I knew it would turn out like it did. I think she kind of put it on herself.But it was a book that I had to finish so it was pretty good.
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alihay, March 8, 2008 (view all comments by alihay)
Compulsively readable. A clear and insightful look into the world of a teenager looking for her place in an unfamiliar world. Great book club choice.
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troykoff8, June 6, 2006 (view all comments by troykoff8)
interesting
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812972351
Author:
Sittenfeld, Curtis
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Author:
Howe, Katherine
Subject:
General
Subject:
Teenage girls
Subject:
Preparatory school students
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
School & Education
Subject:
fiction;boarding school;coming of age;high school;novel;prep school;adolescence;young adult;chick lit;new england;relationships;teen;ya;teenagers;bildungsroman;contemporary fiction;boarding schools;contemporary;angst;friendship;private school;american;mas
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
November 22, 2005
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 7
Language:
English
Pages:
448
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 12

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Prep: A Novel Used Trade Paper
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Product details 448 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812972351 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"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."

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review A Day" by , "Prep's plot is no great shakes — crushes crush, tests test, sex happens. The compelling struggle is surprisingly not between Lee and her wealthy classmates so much as it is between the inner Lee, who writes with subtlety and compassion, and the Lee who wants to fit in with those classmates." (read the entire Boldtype review)
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Sittenfeld's writing is wonderfully descriptive...her talent is evident in the smooth pacing and well-developed characters....[A] gorgeous and charming debut that belongs with the fine coming-of-age stories of our time."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "If you're a parent and you want to get insight into the world of your average mopey teen, Prep is a good place to start....Sittenfeld captures the universal conundrums of teen life with a delicate pen."
"Review" by , "Gripping debut effort...gives us a more accurate picture of adolescence as an unlovely mix of utter cluelessness, extreme sensitivity and untempered drives."
"Review" by , "Sittenfeld creates a world so authentic, so geographically and psychologically precise, that readers won't be able to turn away."
"Review" by , "Prep is no Catcher In the Rye, and its heroine...is no Holden Caulfield. Such comparisons are unfair to Sittenfeld, who shows considerable promise but has a way to go before reaching the status of American literary icon."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by ,
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

 

Its senior year at St. Joans Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they cant.

 

First its the schools queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joans buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

 

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—whos been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .

 

Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, whats really happening to the girls at St. Joans?

"Synopsis" by , Curtis Sittenfelds 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 schools 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 shes 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, Lees 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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