Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371
Author Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep , offers a glimpse into life in a prestigious boarding school through the eyes of a less-than-privileged teen from South Bend, Indiana. Lee Fiora wins a scholarship to the Ault School, transplants to the East Coast, and is plunged headfirst into an unfamiliar,...
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Author Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep, offers a glimpse into life in a prestigious boarding school through the eyes of a less-than-privileged teen from South Bend, Indiana. Lee Fiora wins a scholarship to the Ault School, transplants to the East Coast, and is plunged headfirst into an unfamiliar, upper-crust world.
Prep is an examination of the realities of social class and the doors it can open or close for teens. Sittenfeld paints a poignant picture of stereotypical boarding school students: the gay student who has been marginalized, the jock who hides his religious background for fear of being alienated, the perfect blond bombshell, and many others. It is a tall order for Lee to not only meet the rigorous academic standards set forth by the school but also to try to break through the social barriers that are entrenched in the Ault campus. Lee does not summer on Nantucket, play lacrosse, or even understand what her peers are talking about most of the time.
Sittenfeld's portrayal of teen angst is visceral. Lee spends the better part of her first year at Ault with no friends save her roommates. She develops a painful crush on a boy who ultimately becomes her math tutor. She is somewhat disappointed with her teachers, who either try too hard or not at all. Additionally, Lee's relationship with her family is taxed because they will never truly understand what she went through at Ault. The end of Lee's time at Ault leaves her feeling conflicted; she knows that her experiences there have had a profound impact on her life, but she cannot quite get over that the students never fully embraced her.
Speculation has abounded about whether Prep is based on a real school; many believe that Ault represents the Groton School in Massachusetts (Sittenfeld's alma mater). Even more controversial, some critics have gone so far as to hail the novel's heroine, Lee Fiora, as the new Holden Caulfield, protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye.
At the age of 16, Sittenfeld won Seventeen magazine's fiction contest in 1992. Sittenfeld is also the author of The Man of My Dreams (2006) and American Wife (2008). She penned Prep while she was teaching at Washington, D.C.'s St. Alban's School.