Prep Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Fictional Ault School, Northeastern USA, set in the 1980s

Narrator and Point of View

Lee Fiora, narrating as an adult from her own perspective as an Ault student and teenager

Tone and Mood

Tone is intimate, musing, and by turns nostalgic and rueful

Protagonist and Antagonist

Lee is the protagonist. There is no single antagonist, though Aspeth Montgomery and Lee's father both have antagonistic roles at times.

Major Conflict

The book's overall conflict is between Lee and the rest of the Ault student body, towards whom she feels both resentful and admiring. This conflict is expressed at various times through smaller conflicts with her family and Cross Sugarman.


Lee's interview in a national newspaper, through which she finally voices her true feelings about Ault, leading both other students and her family back home to feel slighted, is the novel's climax.


Since Lee narrates the book from a future date, foreshadowing occurs frequently. Lee, as a narrator, foreshadows that Lee will maintain a close friendship with Martha Porter and that she will have a close relationship with Cross Sugarman before the end of her time at Ault.


Conchita Maxwell points out that Lee has made a laughable understatement after Lee mentions that "things are different on the East Coast."

Later, Lee tells Martha "I'm glad you're not mad at me." She is uncomfortable expressing emotions, so, rather than tell her friend that she loves or cares about her, Lee reveals her feelings through implication and understatement.


Hamlet: Cross Sugarman appears in a school production of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy
Bob Dylan: Conchita adores this beloved folk singer, and, though her friendship with Lee is short-lived, Lee continues to enjoy Dylan's music
Uncle Tom's Cabin: This antislavery novel was one catalyst leading to the American Civil War. Lee and her classmates perform skits based on the book in their English class.
Willa Cather: Ms. Moray loves this twentieth-century American writer, though none of Lee's classmates are familiar with her work.


Lee's life at Ault is characterized by both quiet visual images of natural grandeur and beautiful architecture, and by loud aural imagery of screaming and laughing teenagers.
Sittenfeld describes students' dorm rooms in detail, using the image of a floral comforter as a way to mark wealth. Conchita Maxwell's luxurious but impersonal room is an imagistic indicator of her sheltered life.


Lee, paradoxically, tends to look down on or reject other outsiders, like Ms. Moray—though in some instances she embraces them. Her desire to distance herself from figures like Ms. Moray comes from her discomfort with her own outsider status.

In Ault's social scene, paradoxically, it is considered imperative for students to act as if they do not care about social status or popularity. The students who value popularity the most and are most adept at cultivating it are able to act entirely nonchalant.


Lee's social anxiety and fear of standing out is paralleled by her roommate Dede's fear of not fitting in. They instinctively react in parallel but opposite ways: Lee tries to blend in by speaking up as little as possible and fading into the background, while Dede does her best to make an impression with the school's most popular students.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

"The School" or "Ault" is often used as metonymy to represent the teachers, administration, and student body of Ault.


Lee often personifies Ault, speaking of the school's pride in its alumni or its feelings about various events on campus.