Lee Fiora is a teen from South Bend, Indiana, attending the high-status Ault School on scholarship. Ault’s well-heeled student body includes some familiar figures a Barbie-ish blonde (named, affluently enough, Aspeth Montgomery), a hunky basketball star and a lonely gay student but Sittenfeld’s novel is more than a collection of stereotypes. With this unique and powerful coming-of-age novel, she tells the tale of an outsider who learns as she goes along how to cope in an unfamiliar world.
Lee’s decidedly middle-class upbringing is revealed when her mother and father arrive at the school for Parents’ Weekend in their shabby old Datsun. The weekend proves a catastrophic one for the humiliated Lee, providing her with a new perspective on the way families work. When she becomes involved with basketball hero Cross Sugarman, the experience is not quite as grand as Lee imagined. The growing pains set in as through various friendships and romances Lee comes into her own. As a narrator, she is endearing and awkward, with her own idiosyncrasies and obsessions, and the reader is drawn to her a loner in a world of wealth and social status.
Sittenfeld’s portrayal of this sensitive, tormented youth has won her comparisons to J.D. Salinger. Prep is a witty and wise debut novel that perfectly captures the essence of adolescence, but goes beyond the teen experience to encompass larger themes like identity and family.