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copyright ©1999-2006

the bookshelf: back to school
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2 3
continued from page 2

Prep (cont.) buy it

As one of the few scholarship students at Ault, Lee feels painfully conscious of her familyís lower socio-economic status. Itís not that anyone taunts her for it. Most of her fellow classmates at Ault come from families so wealthy, in fact, that money is simply taken for granted: no one talks about it, because everyone has so much. But amidst the conversations about Aspen ski getaways and European holidays, Leeís just lost. Worse yet, her public school education hasnít prepared her for the rigors of the Ault curriculum. Soon, the plucky girl who applied and got into Ault on her own initiative becomes one of those ďboring, peripheral girlsĒ watching the stars of the school from the sidelines, simultaneously looking down her nose and envying snooty princesses like Aspeth Montgomery, and falling for class golden boy Cross Sugarman, despite her best intentions and the fact that he mostly ignores her existence.

Prep doesnít have much of a plotline; organized by year and semester, itís more a collection of short stories all told through Leeís voice and featuring a number of recurring characters operating mostly within the hallowed halls of Ault. But each story is just the most exquisitely rendered, perfectly condensed little gem, written in beautifully straightforward language, the sort of writing that seems so perfectly effortless it feels like having a conversation with a very smart, very articulate friend. Fluffy-headed, breezy-forgettable reading this is not (despite the chick-lit style cover): there are sharp points made galore, and not all of them go down easy. In fact, Prep is one of those works that I love so, so much that it genuinely breaks my heart when I hear that -- gasp! -- apparently not everyone else in the world adores it as much as I do. I take it personally; I get verklempt; I feel all protective when I hear folks complain that Lee Fiora is just a whiny teen loser whoís too lame to take advantage of the amazing opportunities laid forth at her feet. See, while itís true that Leeís prickly, and weird, and not a small bit self-sabotaging, as far as Iím concerned, thatís just so not the point. The thing I find amazing about Prep is how it puts me right back in high school hell again, and while itís often uncomfortable, itís also chock full of truth -- about friendship, about crushes, about parents and teachers, money and class, individualism and self-survival Ö most of all, about the way that one of the biggest things about growing up is acknowledging the not-so-perfect things about ourselves that instinct tells us to hide. Leeís likability always strikes me as kind of irrelevant, actually -- be honest now: which of us wasnít kind of annoying as an adolescent? And in fact, no oneís harder on Lee than Lee herself: author Curtis Sittenfeld made the very smart decision to write Prep from the viewpoint of an older wiser Lee. The teenage Lee might occasionally drive me nuts, with all her insecurity and rudeness and snobbery, but the Lee who narrates these stories? Now there's a girl I find it hard not to love. The teenage years are an ugly dark time that a lot of us would sooner wipe blank from our memories as soon as we're lucky enough to make it through to the other side, into adulthood. Prep's protagonist does the braver thing: looking back at her choices, she acknowledges all those times when she was wrong and unfair, petty and weak. And in so doing, she proves that eventually, if not right then, she becomes a better person -- in the end, she turns out a-okay.


more bookshelf picks:
gods among us | thriller me this | persepolis | summer reading 2004 | summer reading 2003 | travelogues

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