Prep Irony

Lee's Relationship With Cross (Situational Irony)

Lee tells Cross that she is hurt by his refusal to publicly discuss their relationship or act affectionately towards her in front of others. Cross reminds her that it was she who requested a casual, non-public relationship. In fact, though Lee is particularly upset when Cross does not send her flowers on Valentine's Day, Cross tells her that he was merely following her orders: earlier in the novel, Lee told Cross that she does not expect him to send her flowers. This ironic miscommunication comes from the fact that, while Lee does not particularly want to publicize her relationship with Cross and is reluctant to ask Cross to publicize it, she does in fact want their classmates to know about it. Lee is determined to appear nonchalant and low-maintenance, leading her to give Cross an incorrect impression of her expectations and desires.

Lee's Need for Structure (Situational Irony)

Life at boarding school is highly structured and regulated. Students spend most of their time in activities, classes, or sports practice, and at night they have a strict curfew. Rather than feeling restricted by this structured lifestyle, Lee feels freed by it. When teachers and administrators set strict expectations for her, she knows exactly how to behave. Problems arise when she has free time to fill. Lee is so worried about standing out or acting in a socially unacceptable manner during free time that she feels paralyzed by fear, whereas routine helps her feel more liberated.

Enthusiasm at Ault (Situational Irony)

Lee tells readers that it takes her a long time as an adult to learn that it is important to show enthusiasm in job interviews and social life. In Ault's unusual social sphere, though, enthusiasm is considered distasteful. Among the extremely privileged people who make up Lee's class, showing jadedness and a lack of enthusiasm is a way to signal true belonging in the upper echelons of society. To act enthusiastic about opportunities and experiences signals that one is unaccustomed to them, and therefore undeserving. This norm is deeply ironic, since it is based on the idea that only people who are already privileged and therefore unenthusiastic about the prospect of new opportunities deserve to experience them. Lee, therefore, learns not to display enthusiasm as a way of disguising her lack of experience. In a similar vein, it is considered tasteless to openly discuss money at Ault: Lee observes that the securely wealthy are likelier to show their wealth subtly, as if they find it unnecessary to flaunt.

Foreshadowing from Older Lee (Dramatic Irony)

The novel's protagonist, Lee Fiora, also narrates Prep. The first-person narration, though, is tinged with dramatic irony because Lee narrates the events of her teenage years from her perspective as an adult. This temporal gap between narrator and protagonist means that, quite often, the adult Lee clues us into an upcoming event about which the teenage Lee does not know. Examples include Lee's eventual relationship with Cross and her lifelong friendship with Martha. This dramatic irony occasionally introduces tension and ominousness, since the reader knows about upcoming conflicts before the protagonist, but it also can have a calming effect: collectively, these moments of dramatic irony and foreshadowing signal to readers that Lee's days at Ault lie firmly and safely in the past.

Lee's Fight With Her Father (Verbal Irony)

After a reporter from the New York Times interviews Lee, her father calls her up in a rage. He references a specific story quoted in the Times article. This story describes a moment in which Lee saw beautiful houses with palm trees in front of them and longed to live in one herself. Her father apologizes to her for failing to provide such a house and for giving her a "raw deal for a family." His apology, though, is full of sarcasm: the purpose of the apology is to imply that Lee has asked for one. In other words, by sarcastically apologizing to his daughter, Mr. Fiora reframes Lee's original story as a complaint about her family.