By Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep: A Novel (Random House Trade Paperbacks, November 2005).
When Prep was published, I was thrilled that it resonated with so many people. Countless readers sought me out to tell me that it captured their own feelings of awkwardness, insecurity, and excitement when they left home for the first time. What I hadn’t anticipated was that, in most cases, they were referring to their experiences not at boarding school but in college. Although my protagonist, Lee, is fourteen when she travels to Massachusetts to enroll in the elite Ault School, her adventures and misadventures actually reflect those of many college freshmen: her exposure to other students whose intelligence and sophistication impress and intimidate her and whose families are either far wealthier or far poorer than hers; her shifting relationship with her own family at home; the intimacy of dorm life, where she might find herself brushing her teeth next to someone she’s never spoken to; and the confusion and joy of early sexual experimentation.
Lee is not a role model; at times, she acts selfishly, reveals prejudices, and tells lies. The most common reactions I’ve encountered when visiting book clubs or classes who’ve read Prep fall into two categories: People either say, “I identified more strongly with Lee than I ever have with a fictional character, and yet I thought I was the only one who felt this way,” or “I was incredibly frustrated by Lee’s foolish choices, and I wondered if there was something wrong with her.” These diverging viewpoints make for impassioned discussions, and they often prompt participants to reflect on and share personal experiences. For people who don’t identify with Lee, it can be eye-opening to realize how many of their peers are quietly gripped by social anxiety.
Among the places Prep has been taught are the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; a boys’ prep school in Dallas, Texas; and at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People have told me that they read the book so many times that they memorized passages. In fact, I’m pasting a link below to an article from the website Bustle titled “Why I’ve Read Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘Prep’ At Least Ten Times, and Why I Might Not Read It Again.” It includes the line, “I followed Lee’s story and return to it time and time again because the writing is great, but I have this morbid longing to see who I was and who I am, and I feel like some of the answers are hiding underneath that grosgrain book cover.”I am very proud of how many readers have been moved, frustrated, entertained, and enlightened by Prep.