My knowledge of boarding school comes directly from popular culture; the Baroness in "The Sound of Music" joking about how she'll manage seven children, a similar threat in "The Parent Trap," plus the boys of "Dead Poet's Society" and "With Honors" all factor in there. The largest chunk of information comes from "Gilmore Girls" even though Chilton was a day school, it was a Northeastern prep school. I've learned many formative years are spent without parental influence, there are ample opportunities for co-ed antics, it is a direct precursor to the ivy league, and it's for rich kids or supersmart kids looking for the best education. It’s something that is so far beyond my own sphere I can hardly comprehend it – good thing the same holds true for the novel’s protagonist, Lee Fiora, who attends the expensive school on scholarship though she isn't especially smart and doesn't add diversity. We see this exclusive world through the eyes of a very complex character, so obsessed with observing the actions of others she pretty much loses her sense of self. “prep” spans Lee’s entire 4 years at Ault, but Sittenfeld deftly moves between times for tidbits of needed information – what Lee thinks as an adult for example – which greatly helps the reader pull for Lee, even when you want to smack her. Sittenfeld creates a believable world filled with “bank boys” and perfect “prefects” and a few outcasts, too. I couldn’t help picturing every rich boy looking like Tristan (Chad Michael Murray) or Melissa Joan Hart's basketball playing crush in "Drive Me Crazy" (Gabriel Carpenter). I felt more genuine affection for Lee’s parents than any student – they truly want their daughter to be happy (and her father is very funny) except when he isn't. In some ways you think she would be happier back in South Bend, an average girl attending an average high school, but the view would not be nearly as interesting.
“prep” was Sittenfeld’s debut novel, on many best of lists for 2005, garnering many comparisons to established male authors. The cover is fresh, yet classic and completely recognizable, plus my borrowed hardcover has some lovely embossing over the belt buckle, quite a nice touch. Since “prep” she has written two more novels, and I just remembered that I read her contribution to “THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT” a short story anthology by women authors. I also will be searching for her on NPR’s “This American Life” if only to verify that her speaking voice sounds how I imagine it does.