Prep is Curtis Sittenfeld's debut novel. The book's plot revolves around the high-school career of Lee Fiora, a student at the fictional Ault School in Massachusetts. Unlike most prep school students, Lee comes from a middle-class background and was raised in the Midwest. She applies to the school more or less on a whim and attends only because she is granted a generous scholarship. As a result, Lee is an efficient vessel for exposing the inequality and idiosyncrasies that form so much of boarding school life. Lee's academic life, friendships, sexual experiences, and relationships with teachers provide a wide variety of lenses on the school's practices and values.
The book is thought to be based in part on the author's own experience, both as a student at the prestigious Groton School and as a teacher at St. Albans, an all-boys boarding school. Perhaps for this reason, it is notable for its strict realism and vividly described setting. Prep is also notable for its incisive critique of privilege and class in America, as well as for its economical prose. Published by Random House in 2005, the book quickly became a bestseller and has remained popular among both teenagers and adults, as well as on school reading lists.
In spite of its focus on a particular setting, Prep is essentially a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, as concerned with the individual development of its observant protagonist as it is with biting critique of prep-school culture. Sittenfeld carefully builds the book's highly unusual and insular setting, but the book's documentation of adolescence contains universal themes. Though many readers and reviewers have noted that the book's protagonist and narrator is not particularly likable, readers tend to relate to her experiences of growing up.
In interviews, Prep author Curtis Sittenfeld has stressed her desire to convey the intensity of adolescence, particularly at boarding school. This is a repeated concern in Prep: though the book's narrator looks back on her schooldays with some relief that she no longer feels so strongly or lives in such a challenging environment, she also longs for the emotional and social intensity of her teenage life. In this way, though Prep mostly chronicles its protagonist's misery, it functions as a nostalgic tribute to adolescence.
Prep was nominated for the Orange Prize and selected as one of the Best Books of 2005 by the New York Times.