Plot Summary
Advance Praise
Reviews
Honors and Citations
Related Articles and Interviews

Plot Summary

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.

Read an excerpt.

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Advance Praise

"Curtis Sittenfeld 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 unexpectedly–but often–through the placid surface of her prose. Her voice is strong and clear, her moral compass steady; I’d believe anything she told me.”
–Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

“Speaking in a voice as authentic as Salinger’s Holden Caulfield and McCullers’ Mick Kelly, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Lee Fiora tells unsugared truths about adolescence, alienation, and the sociology of privilege. Prep’s every sentence rings true. Sittenfeld is a rising star.”
–Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True

"Funny, excruciatingly 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 story–it’s a study of social class in America, and Sittenfeld renders it with astonishing deftness and clarity.”
–Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me

“Curtis Sittenfeld 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 you’ll travel back in time: Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel is funny, smart, poignant, and tightly woven together, with a very appealing sense of melancholy.”
–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 lucid.”
–Matthew Klam, author of Sam the Cat

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Reviews

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)
"Terrific…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…[and] a pitch-perfect voice that's brimming with acute self-consciousness and wit."

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…Why Prep deserves pride of place on any summer recommended reading list is the incisive and evenhanded way in which Sittenfeld explores issues of class."

The Washington Post BookWorld
"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."

The Washington Post
"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."

Vanity Fair
"Classy…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)."

Entertainment Weekly
"Sittenfeld's debut novel nails the twisted narcissism that makes all teenagers swear that they alone are frauds and everyone else is perfect…Sittenfeld shows a sharp ear and a soft heart for the state of psychosis otherwise known as adolescence."

Us Weekly
"Hot…Lee navigates adolescence with a sharp wit."

Time
"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."

Newsweek
"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 & World Report
"For everyone who wished that Holden Caulfield was a girl, your time has come."

Marie Claire
"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."

Elle
"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."

Glamour
"[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 place."

Washingtonian Magazine
"A breathtakingly insightful and confident writer, Sittenfeld is a sharp new arrival on the literary campus."

The Rocky Mountain News
"Avoiding overextended melodrama along with obvious clichés in her whole-hearted, raw, and impressive first novel, Curtis Sittenfeld unleashes a pure, unrefined narrative on the transcendental experiences of adolescence…Sittenfeld's brilliant writing sparkles in each turn, hitting the bitter isolation of adolescence spot-on…Some situations feel so real, that the reader is desperate to look away and continue reading, at the same time."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"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…Sittenfeld 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 Westchester Journal News
"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 Daily News
"Getting attention as a novel of teenage angst that rises above, well, novels of teenage angst."

The New York Post
"Deep insight into the adolescent mind…Prep is rewarding and beautifully written, a masterpiece of the genre."

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, evocative prose."

Newsday
"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 Choice)
"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."

Publishers Weekly
"A-grade...Sittenfeld neither indulges nor mocks teen angst, but hits it spot on...saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld, who won Seventeen's fiction contest at 16, proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book."

Kirkus Reviews
"A witty, involving boarding-school drama...Teenaged years served up without sugar: a class act."

Booklist
"...Fine writing and assorted shrewd insights into both the psychology of adolescence and the privileged world of a traditional prep school."

Powells.com (Staff Pick)
"The best thing about this novel, and there are many very good things, is its strikingly intelligent voice…Lee is the most analytical narrator that I have possibly ever read [and] a fascinating protagonist; incredibly self-conscious, shy yet blunt at the oddest times, she's wonderfully and enjoyably weird…Characters are nuanced, pathetic, hilarious, and, above all, genuine. Prep is an extremely talented debut from a writer to keep an eye on--for her sense of humor and empathy as well as her sociological critique."

Daily Candy
"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."

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Honors and Citations

Prep Named a Best Book of 2005 by:
The New York Times
Slate

The Washington Post

The Chicago Tribune
The San Jose Mercury News
The Salt Lake Tribune
The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
The 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

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Related 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. (3/29/05)

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)