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Prep: A Novel Paperback – November 22, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0812972351 ISBN-10: 081297235X Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews Review

Curtis Sittenfeld's poignant and occassionally angst-ridden debut novel Prep is the story of Lee Fiora, a South Bend, Indiana, teenager who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ault school, an East Coast institution where "money was everywhere on campus, but it was usually invisible." As we follow Lee through boarding school, we witness firsthand the triumphs and tragedies that shape our heroine's coming-of-age. Yet while Sittenfeld may be a skilled storyteller, her real gift lies in her ability to expertly give voice to what is often described as the most alienating period in a young person's life: high school.

True to its genre, Prep is filled with boarding school stereotypes--from the alienated gay student to the picture perfect blond girl; the achingly earnest first-year English teacher and the dreamy star basketball player who never mentions the fact that he's Jewish. Lee's status as an outsider is further affirmed after her parents drive 18 hours in their beat-up Datsun to attend Parent's Weekend, where most of the kids "got trashed and ended up skinny-dipping in the indoor pool" at their parents' fancy hotel. Yet even as the weekend deteriorates into disaster and ends with a heartbreaking slap across the face, Sittenfeld never blames or excuses anyone; rather, she simply incorporates the experience into Lee's sense of self. ("How was I supposed to understand, when I applied at the age of thirteen, that you have your whole life to leave your family?")

By the time Lee graduates from Ault, some readers may tire of her constant worrying and self-doubting obsessions. However, every time we feel close to giving up on her, Sittenfeld reels us back in and makes us root for Lee. In doing so, perhaps we are rooting for every high school student who's ever wanted nothing more than to belong. --Gisele Toueg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 über-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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297235X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972351
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (586 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times,The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Allure, Glamour, and on public radio's This American Life. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages. Visit her website at

Customer Reviews

I felt very little sympathy for Lee and by the end of the book I just wanted to shake her.
C. Tape
I picked up Prep because I do like coming of age novels, and there aren't many books dealing realistically with a US boarding school experience.
Erin Brooks
The story was flat, the main character not fully developed or believable (or particularly likeable).

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Kendra on April 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
This was definitely one of the most engrossing novels I've read so far this year. PREP is the story of Lee, an insightful and eloquent (yet insecure) teen from Indiana. Remembering words her middle class father spoke years before ("these are the kinds of houses where they send their sons to boarding school"), she has made it her goal to attend an elite boarding school. And she achieves it-- with a scholarship. The story commences as Lee begins her first year at Ault (think Andover) and concludes as she graduates four years later.

This was an Amazon recommendation since I read Tom Brown's Schooldays. And, it's similar-- a bit. Like Schooldays, History Boys, even Harry Potter, etc., the book follows the lives of several teens during their formative years. I'm not sure everyone would like it-- I'm not sure I'd recommend it to my husband, for instance, but it was indeed excellent. The author, Curtis Sittenfeld , really has the voice of a young insecure teen growing into a more confident, but never completely secure, young woman. Initiallly, I thought the author was a man and was completely taken aback-- how could a man actually know this girl so thoroughly? However, Curtis Sittenfeld is indeed a woman. And, the protagonist and her friends and classmates lives were exactly as I remembered my own life and those of my friends and classmates during high school. Truly, the authenticity the author brought to this book-- the dialogue, the events, the crushes, the friendships-- was uncanny.

I've read the negative reviews here, but disagree with some of the reasoning. One reviewer, for instance, writes about how boring the sex scenes were.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By spacegirl on June 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have NEVER, EVER read a book where I related more to the main character than I did to Lee Fiora. A lot of critics say she doesn't properly reflect the high school experience--well, that's understandable, since there is no universal high school experience that everyone in the world can relate to. If you are someone with an introverted, self-conscious, overly-analytical, fearful, shy personality (like myself), then you will identify with Lee's experience. If not, then you probably won't understand why she acts the way she does.

Like myself, Lee has a lot of severe social anxieties, and I'm sure it would only be compounded being one of the few "middle class" students at an elite prep school. I think her behavior is completely justified and absolutely realistic. Of course, there were scenes here and there where I thought I would have reacted differently than she did, but overall, there were so many occasions where I just thought to myself, "Oh my God, I can't believe there is someone else who thinks this way." Just her little everyday observations and worries, and how almost all of her decisions are driven by the effect they will have on how others perceive her - all of those things are things I felt in high school, and still feel every day. I feel like Sittenfeld got inside my mind. Even the littlest moments in the book struck a chord with me: in one scene, Lee is in a dorm room with another girl (I think it's Sin-Jun, but I can't remember at the moment), and is enduring an awkward silence. She likes the girl's skirt, and wants to compliment her, but she just can't bring herself to say anything. She thinks to herself, "Sometimes speaking is just so hard." I know exactly what she means.

Even her obsession with Cross is totally spot-on.
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184 of 212 people found the following review helpful By E.M. Bristol VINE VOICE on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book reminds me of "Joe College" by Tom Perrotta and "Old School" by Tobias Wolff with the same formula of working class outsider attends an elite school and learns life lessons en route to graduation. Unlike the protagonists in those books, however, "Prep's" Lee Fiora, manages to make more than just temporary connections with her classmates, and it is that which distinguishes the book from others with male protagonists.

Much has been made by reviewers of the fact that the protagonist is a snob. So what. Many teenagers are judgmental and materialistic, regardless of class, and most are, at some point, intensely embarrassed by their parents. It's part of growing up. What a cop out it would be if Lee were the kind of Hollywood teen who in the end always does the right thing. It's refreshing to see an author create a first novel protagonist who clearly isn't some idealized version of herself.

I just wish the author had prefaced each section with a date - it took me a needlessly long time to figure out when it was set. Characters used today's lingo (hook-up, etc.), but there were also elements specific to both the 80's and 90's. This was a bit jarring.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michelle Erickson on July 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Much of your enjoyment of this novel depends on your tolerance level for the meticulous details of boarding school life and the obsessive expression of insecurities that accompanies the narrator at her age. Of course, the story of Lee's stay at a boarding school is recounted at a later stage of her life, which led me to wonder: "How does she remember precisely how she felt in that exact moment, so many years ago?"
Whatever. This is a story of "trying to fit" or the search for acceptance, not only at the school, but with herself. Lee is a bundle of insecurities and often her self-loathing spirals into self-pity. This is all like real life, except that in fiction a reader may expect something less "familiar" or drab.
The overall prose is excellent. You can't say the author writes badly, yet after so many hundred pages, I found myself growing tired of the main character and this is a bad thing. The main character in a book is like a friend; and I found Lee to be a little draining, after a while. I would still recommend this book, along with another novel often mentioned by reviewers, The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez. Ultimately, it's all a matter of taste, of liking a character, of tolerance levels regarding the subject matter, etc. However, I would still personally recommend reading either book.
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