By Sam Smink
When I started reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, I was bored, then angry, and almost gave up the book altogether. But ultimately, I became engrossed and stayed up 4 more hours than I should have to finish it.
Lee Fiora is a young girl from Idaho, who applies to a bunch of boarding schools and gets in to the infamous Ault School of Massachusetts, on a scholarship of course. She spends 4 years there, quietly living in the background of the prep school life with the bank boys, the popular girls, the token black guy, the follower, and some friends. She’s a typical teenager with unattainable crushes and broken friendships, but she never really fits in – or does she?
The truth is, she doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t let herself. It’s not the typical “I’m an individual/rebel” deal but more “I think I’m a loser so everyone must feel the same way.” For all you bookworms, Lee is like Holden Caulfield a la Catcher in the Rye. Only Lee, if possible, is more cynical and critical in her thought process than Holden, probably because she’s a young girl. And we all know girls express bitterness much more clearly than boys.
But Lee isn’t critical or distrusting of the outside world, like Holden; in fact she seems very spot-on when it comes to other students’ characters. She’s just extremely, almost absurdly, critical of herself. I couldn’t understand how someone could analyze every single action so minutely and never actually act on it. Hence my anger.
But it wasn’t until I was reading well into Lee’s senior year that I realized she was just normal. And I began to understand my initial disgust. After all, who wants to read a book about someone so ordinary?
Lee was just being honest with herself and the reader. Granted, she was way too hard on herself, but who hasn’t been? No matter how insane or ridiculous or down on herself she was, we have all had the same exact thoughts at some point. We all hold back from saying what we feel; we all second-guess ourselves; we all over-analyze situations. And what made it all the more real: Lee knew. She knew how she was acting and didn’t stop herself. And it wasn’t until she was an adult that she understood why.
Enthralled by the last pages, I wanted her to have the perfect ending, with her man, finally telling everyone exactly how she feels on her terms. You know the quote “The only person who can make you feel small is yourself?” It’s what made the ending so real. And that’s what both hurts the novel and makes it shine. The cruel, totally self-conscious view of life.
Reading this book, you’ll notice just how neurotic you were or maybe still are. And you’ll tell yourself to never act that way again. Live and learn. So don’t second guess yourself. But don’t second guess this book either.