Prep-are Yourself

“Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld

Growing up is never as easy as it seems, especially as a teenage girl. Author Curtis Sittenfeld captures the essence of female adolescence in her debut novel “Prep.”

“Prep” follows Lee Fiora, a self-aware and self-conscious teenage girl from South Bend, IN, who left her home to attend the Ault School, an elite boarding school in Massachusetts.

Fiora soon realizes that Ault is not exactly what she expected from reading the brochures. There are sons of Wall Street moguls, girls with names like Tab and Aspeth, and best friends who spend summers in Nantucket. Fiora finds that she is none of the above; she simply feels that she does not fit in.

This is when we feel an instantaneous connection to Fiora, even if I think that it was she who pitifully convinced herself that she didn’t belong. Don’t we all feel like an outsider at some point or another?

Just when Fiora believed she had it all figured out, her academic or social life would spiral out of her control. This happened not just once, but time and time again. Sounded a lot like high school to me.

For the teenage reader, “Prep” is amusingly and often poignantly relatable. Friends that come and go, crushes that crush, and parents that don’t quite understand. I wanted to laugh, cringe, and cry. All the while, “Prep” engrosses its reader in powerful, true-to-life subjects such as coming of age, self-identification and class distinctions.

This made “Prep” all the better—and all the worse.

In “Prep,” Sittenfeld forced me to look back at my years in high school. Like Fiora, I have changed since I first stepped into Upper School as a somewhat naïve and timorous freshman. At times, I was thinking: Lee, I totally get you! Other times, I was thinking: Get a grip, Lee! What do you think you’re doing?

Nonetheless, “Prep” compels its readers to self-reflect, even if it lacks a true plot. I felt as if I had gone high school beside Fiora—through every class, every school dance that she didn’t go to, every evening she spent alone in her dorm room.

I finished “Prep” in one day; I was almost regretful to put it down. Where else could I read such unbridled, authentic thoughts from a girl who isn’t all that different from the rest of us? Sittenfeld’s brilliant, truthful observations and sharp wit make Fiora and her struggles profoundly real; I wouldn’t be surprised if “Prep” was, in fact, a memoir.

And get this: the St. Mark’s School of Texas included “Prep” in their most recent English III curriculum.

I can’t imagine how those juniors boys responded to the lamentations and struggles of a teenage girl. Fingers crossed, St. Mark’s has gained a little perspective from Sittenfeld on just what it takes to grow into the self-assured, successful woman that we all strive to be. I know that I sure have.

– Faith Isbell