Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is one of those books I really wanted to read, but I was sure I was going to hate. It had tons of buzz last year; it's supposed to be the one true ultimate novel about a girl (Hey, I'm a girl) who went to an East Coast prep school (Hey, I went to an East Coast prep school), and felt as if she didn't fit in (Hey, I felt as if I didn't fit in). If it's close to being a book about me, and there's lots of buzz about it, then I'm sure I'm going to have a problem reading it. To get a sense of the buzz about this book, check out the publisher's quote on Curtis Sittenfeld's website:
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.
OK, gag me now. Insightful? Brilliant? Angst? Ugh. I hate hype like this.
I took this book out of the library, and returned it without reading it. I bought it and didn't read it. I took it to Tahoe earlier this month and didn't read it. The damn pink belt just kept appearing at odd moments from under the clutter on the kitchen table, taunting me, and I started feeling guilty that I had this thing in the house. I was sure I was going to just hate it.
I'm in a romance novel funk right now--the set-ups are really annoying me. I like the people I read about, but the last few I've picked up have had awkward set-ups or contrived plots. So I sighed deeply and picked up Prep.
I finished it in two days.
I was sobbing at the end.
Sobbing. Gulping, face in damp washcloth sobs.
I could now start the gushing review--what part triggered the tears, where it was real, where it hurt to read--except I don't really want to gush about Prep. Somehow that would be too dramatic for such a simple book. Not much happens in Prep.
My experiences at Andover were not the same as Lee Fiora's at Ault. (I never played sports, for example.) Nonetheless, Sittenfeld really grabs ahold of the anxiety of prep school which lives in every student's experience. (Is this what the teacher wanted in the assignment? Why is George sitting with us at lunch? Do I belong here?) Lee is a good enough student, but never sparkles in academics, popularity, or sports. (Although she is still able to find students lower on the totem pole than she, simply to reassure herself that she is not the biggest loser in the school.) Lee never steps in to her life--she watches other people and tries to grasp their motivations, which, of course, makes her an excellent narrator. I enjoyed reading it, but I wasn't swept away by either her observations, the writing style, the characters, or the plot. I enjoyed it, but wasn't flutttering.
After graduation, Lee looks back at Ault. She talks about looking back at prep school as if looking back at a first crush--the love you felt is so strong, but you know you'll never experience those emotions so strongly ever again. There's nostalgia in that, but there's also the knowledge that you don't want to have to experience those strong emotions again. At 23, Lee knows that she'll never again be in a place where everyone uses the same currency, that every single person is reaching towards the same goal, and that the hatred she feels for Ault is interwoven and inseparable from the love she feels for it.
It killed me.
Prep school set me apart from every other person I know who hasn't gone to prep school, but I also don't want to relive my school days with those who were there with me. I never liked them enough, and it would be too painful. But prep school has given me a huge advantage as an adult. Should I feel guilty? Pleased?
Prep was a raw and insightful book which is so easy to read that the truth slips in without you realizing its entering the room.