Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Reviews #26

Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld.

A book group choice, and not a bad read but at 478 pages, in my opinion at least 150 too long.

The story is written in the first person, that of Lee Fiori who is 14 at the beginning, and covers the four years (I think) of American high school, although this isn't just any old high school.
Lee, back in 'small town' Indiana decided at the tender age of 13 that she'd quite like to go to boarding school. Her parents weren't poor, but neither could they afford boarding school fees, so Lee did her research and applied to those prep schools that offered scholarships. But life as a student on a scholarship, as opposed to one as a student who has always had and probably will always have money is very different. Lee goes from being the clever student at her local school who was popular with the staff because she was keen, to being average and at one point so far behind in her understanding of maths that she risks being "spring cleaned" (the pupils' term for those who aren't making the grade and are asked to find another school).

From the very beginning Lee is shy, self conscious and naive, an outsider whose only wish is to observe others, making no attempt to try to conform or even fit in. This is fine, and quite understandable at the beginning, afterall she is only 14. But to not develop at all during the four teenage years as she starts to mature into an adult is weird and also irritating to me as a reader, I felt that I really wanted to slap the girl or at the very least shake her and tell her to try, just try to enjoy herself and the opportunities she'd put within her own grasp. Afterall it was her decision and no-one else's for her to go to boarding school.

This is a well written book, critics have been comparing her to Salinger and Path and according to the Observer it's "The OC meets Donna Tartt's The Secret History". I think The Times review says it all with "it feels like adolescence", there's way too much angst, self doubt, self loathing, self analysis and insecurity in this book for my tastes, maybe my adolescent days are just too far behind me for to want to be reminded of them?

I've been revisiting Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers with my daughter for a while now and I much prefer her take on boarding school with the midnight feasts and jolly hockey sticks approach to life despite the stiff upper (British) lip to this angst ridden American dream.

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