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Curtis Sittenfelds 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 schools 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
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 ofand,
ultimately, a participant intheir 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 shes 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
experiencescomplicated 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.
Read an excerpt.
is a young writer with a crazy amount of talent. Her sharp and economical
prose reminds us of Joan Didion and Tobias Wolff. Like them, she has a
sly and potent wit, which cuts unexpectedlybut oftenthrough
the placid surface of her prose. Her voice is strong and clear, her moral
compass steady; Id believe anything she told me.
Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering
a voice as authentic as Salingers Holden Caulfield and McCullers
Mick Kelly, Curtis Sittenfelds Lee Fiora tells unsugared truths
about adolescence, alienation, and the sociology of privilege. Preps
every sentence rings true. Sittenfeld is a rising star.
Wally Lamb, author of Shes Come Undone and I
Know This Much Is True
honest, improbably sexy, and studded with hard-won, eccentric wisdom about
high school, heartbreak, and social privilege. One of the most impressive
debut novels in recent memory.
Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Election
In her deeply
involving first novel, Curtis Sittenfeld invites us inside the fearsome
echo chamber of adolescent self-consciousness. But Prep is more than a
coming of age storyits a study of social class in America,
and Sittenfeld renders it with astonishing deftness and clarity.
Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me
ensconces the reader deep in the world of the Ault School and the churning
mind of Lee Fiora (a teenager as complex and nuanced as those of Salinger),
capturing every vicissitude of her life with the precision of a brilliant
documentary and the delicacy and strength of a poem.
Thisbe Nissen, author of Osprey Island
Open Prep and
youll travel back in time: Curtis Sittenfelds novel is funny,
smart, poignant, and tightly woven together, with a very appealing sense
Jill A. Davis, author of Girls Poker Night
Prep does something
considerable in the realm of discussing class in American culture. The
ethnography on adolescence is done in pitch-perfect detail. Stunning and
Matthew Klam, author of Sam the Cat
The New Yorker
"Any feelings of nostalgia for adolescence should be dispelled by
the exacting intimacies of this first novel...hilarious and excruciating...In
the end, Lee's incisive vision of herself and others is her downfall but
also--as this richly textured narrative suggests--her greatest gift."
The Boston Globe (Sunday)
Prep has a jaunty pink and green web belt on the cover,
but don't let that sweet candy-coating fool you. Prep may be as addictive
as M & Ms, but it's also a tart and complex tale of social class,
race, and gender politics
An achingly funny authenticity
a pitch-perfect voice that's brimming with acute self-consciousness and
The Boston Globe (daily)
"Sittenfeld's writing is wonderfully descriptive -- one gains a new
appreciation for the natural beauty of Massachusetts -- as well as spare
and clear-eyed; her talent is evident in the smooth pacing and well-developed
characters...A gorgeous and charming debut that belongs with the fine
coming-of-age stories of our time."
The New York Times (Editor's Choice)
"A class act... Lee Fiora
possesses a Midwesterner's level head
and a gimlet eye for all things top-drawer. It is Lee's observations of
what it's like to be a scholarship student thrust into a world of privilege
that shape the novel
Sittenfeld's dialogue is so convincing that
one wonders if she didn't wear a wire under her hockey kilt
deserves pride of place on any summer recommended reading list is the
incisive and evenhanded way in which Sittenfeld explores issues of class."
"Gripping...the intensity of Lee's experience gives it from the outset
its own throbbing, undeniable legitimacy...The novel never slows, due
to Sittenfeld's perfect pacing and almost reportorial knack for describing
what it's like -- psychologically, logistically -- to be 15...It seems
likely that Lee Fiora will be compared to Holden Caulfield, and it is
high time someone wrote the girl's boarding-school novel...This is the
great risk that Sittenfeld takes: It's comparatively easy to write a novel
about a young man trying to be socially acceptable...To put a teenage
girl in the same position is a much bigger gamble because, even now, it
defies our expectations."
"Holden Caulfield would love this heroine: Her dry wit and sharp
social observations sting and zing delightfully."
The New York Observer
"A big-buzz debut novel
The narrator of Prep is incapable of
missing a trick [and] it's precisely because she's a fish out of water
that she's so keenly perceptive...We're charmed by her trials."
It's sort of Melissa Bank-y or Wally Lamb-y, but with
a lot of really dead-on stuff about class and status (and it's been about
nine million years since I read a literary novel where the sex wasn't,
like, Cringe City)."
"Sittenfeld's debut novel nails the twisted narcissism that makes
all teenagers swear that they alone are frauds and everyone else is perfect
shows a sharp ear and a soft heart for the state of psychosis otherwise
known as adolescence."
Lee navigates adolescence with a sharp wit."
"Critics have compared author Curtis Sittenfeld to Salinger and Plath.
But her novel Prep, about boarding school, pegs her as a name to watch
in her own right."
"Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Lee is an obsessive observer
of the very rich...The drama in this first novel is mostly in Lee's head,
but the details are perfect. And Lee is an appealing heroine-not as much
of a loser as she fears, more of a loser than she wants to be."
U.S. News &
"For everyone who wished that Holden Caulfield was a girl, your time
"Do you remember what high school felt like? Curtis Sittenfeld does,
and she captures the experience brilliantly
Angst is everywhere between
the pages, but so too is wit, wisdom, and empathy."
"This, thankfully, is a book...that does not sink under the ponderous
weight of its own angst or traffic in Salinger-esque precociousness or
whimsy. Sittenfeld should be commended for creating a teenage heroine
who is disaffected but not cartoonishly sullen and whose first romantic
obsession resembles scientific fascination more than swooning hysteria.
Those whose hearts were led astray by repeated viewings of 'Dead Poets
Society'...will deeply appreciate this gift...Moving but not at all maudlin."
"[One of] the coolest (and hottest) winters picks...Sittenfeld exposes
the real facts of life at boarding school. The O.C.'s got nothing on this
"A breathtakingly insightful and confident writer, Sittenfeld is
a sharp new arrival on the literary campus."
The Fort Worth
"Coming-of-age novels can be so hackneyed that how they came to be
published defies rational explanation. Or they can be so charming that
a 56-year-old man (in this instance, me) reads avidly when a 28-year-old
female first novelist writes about a young woman who leaves her modest
Indiana home to attend a prestigious Massachusetts prep school on scholarship
is superb at rendering dialogue, at physical description, at describing
emotions, at floating ideas about human nature, education and the society
that invented prep schools
Everything we want and need to read about
is here. Grade: A+"
The Newark Star-Ledger
"Tempting as it might be to peg Lee Fiora as the female incarnation
of J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, a better comparison might be Tom
Wolfe's recently incarnated Charlotte Simmons...The difference between
these girls is that Lee leaps electrically and memorably off the page
while Charlotte merely holds her own as a two-dimensional composite. Considering
the similarity of their plots and the proximity of their publication dates,
it's worth noting that Sittenfeld, a 29-year-old debut novelist, beats
Wolfe handily at his own game. Unlike her brainchild Lee, who painstakingly
styles herself as a nobody, Sittenfeld proves here that she is indeed
somebody--a writer worth watching."
The San Francisco Chronicle
"In microscopic emotional detail, Prep conveys the inner world of
an entirely typical teenage girl with remarkable warmth...Her absolute
plainspoken honesty and the elemental nature of so many of Lee's desires
make this one of the most tender and accurate portraits of adolescence
in recent memory...Sittenfeld gets at wonderful truths...[The] description
of Lee's preparation to perform her first sexual act deserves to become
a classic of awkwardness recollected in tranquility."
The San Jose Mercury News
"Sittenfeld's writing soars in her unflinching, nuanced character
study, especially in the heroine's authentic teenage voice of uneasy melancholy
longing...Above all, Prep demonstrates this first-time novelist's gift
for conjuring tangible images that capture a sense, feeling or wistful
moment...Readers of this striking debut, full of teen angst, hope and
heartache will surely take notice."
The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[A] startlingly nuanced debut...Sittenfeld has a particular genius
for recreating the atmosphere of universal teenage angst, and delightfully
stomach-tightening scenes crowd every one of these pages...Sittenfeld
creates a world so authentic, so geographically and psychologically precise,
that readers won't be able to turn away."
The Orlando Sentinel
"Curtis Sittenfeld captures this paradoxical time [of adolescence]
perfectly in her debut novel, Prep, a nuanced look at life at an elite
boarding school that goes beyond the exclusivity of the experience to
find something that speaks to a broader truth...a sort of better executed
I Am Charlotte Simmons for the prep set."
"The debut novel of the year, a deeply felt and honest portrayal
of an excruciatingly self-aware young girl's struggles to fit in at private
school. 'Freaks and Geeks' or 'My So-Called Life' fans will carry this
around like it's the new 'Catcher in the Rye.'"
The New York Sun
"A brilliant correction to that yearning [for adolescence]...Takes
you back to the uncertainty and fear, the hopefulness and mystery that
characterizes high school, whatever your experience there...Powerful,
"If you're a parent and you want to get insight into the world of
your average mopey teen, Prep is a good place to start...Sittenfeld captures
the universal conundrums of teen life with a delicate pen...Prep reminds
us that there are jewels lurking in the rubble of old hurts."
The Boston Herald (Editor's
"Lee Fiora often feels like a loser...But as a character in fiction,
she's one of the most appealing to show up in a long time...We'd like
to see more from her creator."
"Sittenfeld gives the [Judy] Blume canon a slick J. Crew makeover...A
perfect regression for the angst-ridden, diary-scribbling, Blume-reading
adolescent in all of us."
Prep Named a Best Book
of 2005 by:
New York Times
San Jose Mercury News
Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC)
The Providence Journal (Providence, RI)
Prep selected by The New York Times as one of the 10
Best Books of 2005
Prep nominated for the UK's Orange Prize
Articles and Interviews
Read a profile of Curtis in the Washington Post. (2/23/05)
Read an interview of Curtis on Earthgoat, a blog by graduates of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Read an interview of Curtis on The Atlantic Monthly's website (you can access the
whole interview online if you subscribe to The Atlantic, or you can find
it at the end of the Prep paperback). (4/13/05)