Prep: A Novel

Prep: A Novel

3.5 351
by Curtis Sittenfeld
     
 

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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.

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

Overview

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.

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 school’s 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 she’s 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, Lee’s 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.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781588364500
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/11/2005
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
39,780
File size:
2 MB

Read an 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Curtis Sittenfeld won the Seventeen magazine fiction writing contest in 1992, at age sixteen, and The Mississippi Review’s annual fiction contest in 1998. Her writing has appeared in Fast Company, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon, and Real Simple, and on public radio’s This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is the recipient of a Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award. Sittenfeld was the 2002—2003 writer in residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., where she continues to work as a part-time as an English teacher.


From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Washington, D.C.
Date of Birth:
August 23, 1975
Place of Birth:
Cincinnati, Ohio
Education:
B.A., Stanford University, 1997; M.F.A., University of Iowa (Iowa Writers¿ Workshop), 2001
Website:
http://www.curtissittenfeld.com

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Prep 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 351 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I was reading the other reviews for this book, I was so happy to find that others didn't care for it either. I was completed dissapointed by this book, and the message that it was trying to send. The main character improves nothing in her life, she doesn't grow, and let others people ruin her life. There is really no climax in this book, and it seems to really have no point. Except maybe that some people like Lee are just cowardly, and choose to never improve their lives. How depressing. I finished this book only because I hoped that there would be a good ending....there wasn't. It's the first book I've ever thrown away. The one thing that drove me crazy about Lee, was that she let her long term crush, that idiotic boy use her, and treat her terribly. The explicit sex scenes that were introduced into the story were not in anyway helpful to moving the plot along, or even helpful to Lee's opinion of herself. He continued to use her, and she let him, and I think it's important to acknowledge that his behavior was not acceptable. The author never acknowledged this. The people in this book made bad decisions, and seemed to continue to make them, thus destroying themselves. This is not a message that I think should be sent out to the public.
EvaGirl2006 More than 1 year ago
The main character of this book was very unlikable. I found myself waiting for something bad to finally happen to her. She walks all over people who are nice to her in the story. This basically sums up the book until the end when her character finally doesn't make you want to punch her or give you anxiety because she is so awkward. The supporting characters in the book are like-able and are what redeems the book. You feel sorry for them almost. In the end, the book was entertaining enough to get me to finish it. However, as a warning to those of you know prefer to like the main character, I wouldn't suggest this.
KimmOhh More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few months ago;and i still look over it from time to time. I absolutley liked this book! Ok,Ok,so i did not LOVE it,but i still liked it. I thought it was a good read.
chermcherm More than 1 year ago
For me to like a book I do not have to love the main character. I understand that the lack of an obvious plot and the general lack of likability in the main character could really turn people off to this book, I actually really enjoyed this. I think the first thing to understand is that this is NOT a teen novel really. It is more a book for grown women looking back on their teen years, the mistakes we make because we are naive, the friendships we gain and then lose, and the belief that we are wholly different and separated from everyone around us. I am not saying that all teenage girls are at all times naive, shallow, and judgmental I just think the author was concentrating those teen traits into one character. She often times sees everyone else as simple, when she finds out later the opposite is true. She lets a boy use her because at least she is receiving some kind of attention from the boy she is infatuated with. The story is basically her experience in a boarding school during her highschool years. She concludes her prep school experience with a tirade about the school's students and largely acts superior when she is not in fact better than they are. So like I said previously, I think the target audience of this novel is grown women, not high schoolers. Though, High Schoolers might also enjoy this novel if they are prepared for a more bittersweet view of boarding school, rather than a rosy or glamorous one a la gossip girl.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this cover to cover in about three sittings. It is kind of like Degrassi Jr High meets East Coast boarding school. That description doesn't do justice to the outstanding writing. The main character is shallow and annoying but you will still for some reason want to keep reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Curtis Sittenfeld¿s novel, Prep, embodies all of the principles of the quintessential teen novel, yet it still has a message and is an accurate depiction of the cliques, teen angst, and loneliness that we all have to deal with as teenagers. Sittenfeld has neatly captured all of the things that other teen-fiction writers only wish they could describe, and does so while getting across a good point. The main character Lee Fiora changes a great deal through the story, and while some of these changes put her in a bad position, she helps us understand that we must change, no matter how much we want to stay the same. Ms. Sittenfeld has created a masterpiece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is real. Lee is not a perfect girl living in a perfect world. She is an awkward, funny, and observant teenager who learns the hard way about the "amazing" life of the privileged. As you read, you grow to understand Lee in a way that allows you to sympathize with her and also relate to her. High school was an emotional roller coaster for every teenager, Lee Fiora just tells her story of riding on that roller coaster. This is my favorite book of all time. 
KaitKN More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. No joke. I'm still reading it, but it's not bad. Really. I got it at a book store for 11.00, and I definately think i got my moneys worth out of it. I don't see why people don't like this book. It's all about preference!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only book I have read where I absolutely hate the main character. She has no redeeming qualities. We never really know what she wants. She climbed over the people who cared for her but was never fully happy when she got to where she wanted to be. If I could have figured her out I may have liked the story.
tpg_1910 More than 1 year ago
I couldn't stop reading this book. I loved it, I own it and it's deffinently a book that iwll stay in my library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great, but it was also deep and depressing. very depressing. i dont recommend this book to anyone who can't handle sad situations. i wanted to cry at the end of each chapter. but dont think i didn't like it because i absolutely love this book. it makes a person think about their lives. and it gives an insight to most of the quiet people who sit in your class and do not speak. i love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was highly disappointing and i feel like i've wasted my time and money by reading this book. Lee Fiora is annoying and while reading i kept hoping for someone to smack some sense in her. high school was four years in my life that i grew into myself and i felt that Lee didn't change at all. This book is crap. i suggest watching some bad tv instead (it's more fulfilling).
bookloverfl12 More than 1 year ago
Maybe it is because I listened to this book, I didn't like it. I shouldn't judge a book by the narrator but someone has got to think that if the narrator sounds like a drag, the listener will feel the same way too about the book. At times, I got confused when the book would jump between time frames (current, past, future) - maybe if I was reading a physical book, that wouldn't happen. I wasn't too intrigued by the book, in general, but maybe the narrator really ruined the story for me.
NerdyMusicBliss More than 1 year ago
Overall, I didn't like this book. The main character did not grow or change, or do anything really interesting over the four years. The plot was really boring. There were also little moments and events in the story that serve no distinct purpose. Even though that was bad, this author shows great potential with a lot of room for improvement. She has the potential to demonstrate the awkward, rushed transition into dating much better by giving more depth and personality to characters like Cross. Sittenfeld also introduces an interesting family relationship which is amazing when brought into the story. I also liked Lee's friendship with Martha.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really hate this book. I was forced to read this in my LA class for "banned books" week. At first i couldn't tell why it was banned, to me it was just boring long with no plot. The man character, Lee is the most insecure girl with no respect for her friends or for herself. She lets her longtime crush, Cross sugarman invade himself onto her bed just because she liked him and lied wha he was doing to her body. She was a truly boring character with no personality other than being a wallflower. I have to give a speech on this book for 10 minutes and i'm disappointed in the fact that she never truly learned about anything during the course of those four years. She was disrespectful to her parents and her friends. The sexual content portrayed in this book is too graphic. At times i felt like the author put it there to "enlighten" the book but it was unnecessaty and i ca see why this book was onced banned. No one should read this until at least 15 years of age. Im currently 16 and im not sure i was prepared for this. Overall the minor characters were ok but the man character needed fixing. ~Review from Yubrine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
too fast-paced
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love dram, so this sounds like a good book to me. And to hte person below me. I dob't give a damn about your freaking advertizment!!!!! It is a review page. I am supposed to post stuff. Your camp and your advertizment can NOT stop me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have any questions ask me Chiron at the second result. NO POSTING ON THIS PAGE PLEASE! have fun exploring camp!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was pretty slowly moving at times and the message was a little hard to understand, even for a16 year old. I didnt dislike the book but its definitely not the best i have ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago