Prep is the first novel written by Curtis Sittenfield and although it is a work of fiction it is widely believed to be semi-autobiographical and based on Sittenfield's own boarding school experience. The novel is centered around Ault School, a protected world of hope and privilege. Ault was founded over one hundred years ago in order to educate the sons of wealthy families and equip them to excel academically and socially. Ault is an institution where success is expected and attained. More recently Ault has opened it's doors to the daughters of wealthy families as well and has extended the invitation to be part of its student body to gifted scholars and athletes who attend Ault on scholarships.
Although it is not made clear what year the novel begins it is thought that Lee's experience is some time during the 1980s, with floral bedspreads, floral dresses with lace collars and dangly earrings being all the rage for the female students.
Ault is a world within a world, with its own customs, rules and traditions. It is also a place that exists in a particular pocket of time and is not necessarily a place or experience that follows its students through their life after graduation.
The way in which the author has presented two versions of the main character, one as the narrator, a thirty year old woman, looking back on her life as a fourteen year old, is really the key to the success of the novel as generally it would be difficult to attract adult readers to a book about teen angst and obsession about adolescent love. The entire four year high school experience is compressed into one novel as only the pivotal memories that have stuck with the thirty year old narrator are shared with the reader. It is a story of growing up in a hallowed institution that most people cannot relate to but creates a definitive portrait of the universal excruciating adolescent years that resonate with everyone.