Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

As I mentioned in my post about Bad Monkeys, I hereby announce that I will not read any more books that are compared to Catcher in the Rye. But, at least I got the allusion when it came to Bad Monkeys; there was a little Holden Caufield in Jane Charlotte, a subconscious desire to catch the little kids before they tumbled off the cliff.

There is no such good will in Lee Fiora. She's a teenaged loner and misanthrope without the bad-ass sex appeal that might normally go along with that sort of "outsider" status. Lee's just not a particularly good kid at all. She's a mediocre student from South Bend, Indiana, who applied to New England prep schools in order circumvent the lower-middle class banal existence of her family (who come across as far cooler and more likable than she ever does, despite the fact that she's perpetually embarrassed by them). She ends up at the New England blue blood boarding school Ault as a "scholarship kid." She never really fits in. Never. The book spans 416 tedious pages and her four years of high school and Lee doesn't change. She doesn't grow-- or doesn't grow much. And worst of all, nothing happens. Seriously. Nothing of note happens. A suicide attempt by a friend. Loss of virginity to a jerk-off. Opportunities missed and ignored. Friends made and alienated. Family insulted. That's the plot, folks.

But Lou, you may be saying, Lee's a teenager. All teenagers are shits.

Herein may have lain the problem for me: I work with teens every day (and no, they are not all shits) and this "window onto a teen's life" bored me senseless. I have front row seats to teens' lives every day. And they grow and change and things happen to them beyond the routine things that happened to Lee. I was also a scholarship kid at a tony New England prep school (although it was a day school). I wasn't as much of an outsider as Lee, but I was definitely in the "unpopular" clique. And shit happened to me too. And I changed and grew during the course of my four years there. At the end of the book (I don't consider this a spoiler) when she nearly flunks out her senior year for giving up on her math exam, I couldn't believe that she was the exact same train wreck that she was when she first came to Ault.

To say this book was hyped is understatement. Sittenfeld has been compared to Salinger, Tobias Wolff, Joan Didion, Carson McCullers, Melissa Bank, Wally Lamb, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Wolf, Judy Blume. The list makes the mind whirl. The book was well written, yes. But a classic? Innovative? Fresh? No.

My burning question: Why wasn't this YA? It is, indeed, a far sight better than the Gossip Girls crap my kids are reading these days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. I hated it. It was boring, superficial, and cliched.