When Conchita Maxwell invites Lee to her dorm room, Lee observes that the room has a strange quality, as if it has been set up for a slumber party to which nobody has come. This simile reflects a larger truth about Conchita's social life. Her mother is a loving, somewhat overbearing figure, who is as active in decorating her daughter's room as she is in all aspects of Conchita's life. Furthermore, Conchita's father is the CEO of a corporation, and as a result she is expected to flourish and fit in at her elite school. Therefore, her room is professionally decorated—not with the eccentric Conchita in mind, but according to the image of a popular, stereotypically feminine student. Since Conchita has few friends, none of the expected guests for whom the room is set up come to visit. But, furthermore, the version of Conchita for whom the room is designed never arrives.
Seeing a Celebrity (Simile)
Before coming to Ault, Lee obsessively pores over catalogs and brochures featuring pictures of Ault students. Once she arrives at school, she feels a shock of recognition every time she catches sight of one of these students. She compares this feeling to that of spotting a celebrity in New York or Los Angeles. For Lee, part of the appeal of Ault is its distance from her previous life. This distance allows her to freely fantasize about life there, projecting whatever she needs onto the school, just as people imagine the lives of celebrities in accordance with their own interests and feelings. Once Lee is actually an Ault student herself, these celebrity-like figures become her peers. This is an exciting change for her, but a disorienting one as well, since she has now lost the freedom to imagine what she likes about these Ault students. Instead, Lee now faces the pressure to impress and befriend the people whom she once considered aspirational figures.
Ice Hockey and Trucks (Similes)
While Lee is getting to know Dave Bardo, and beginning to develop a bit of a crush on him, she expresses her thoughts about him through simile. She thinks that Dave looks like "someone who might play ice hockey outside...or who would own a truck and know how to fix it if it broke down." These similes are something of a shorthand for expressing deeper cultural and class differences between Dave and the boys in Lee's class. Lee associates Dave, who is working-class and lives in a small town, with salt-of-the-earth skills and toughness. She is attracted to him for his self-sufficiency, or for the impression of self-sufficiency that he gives her, and for his unshowy practical knowledge. In part, Lee is impressed by these aspects of Dave's personality because they feel so foreign to her in the context of boarding school. Most of her classmates have lived privileged lives and therefore lack the ability to do practical tasks like repair a truck. To the extent that they engage with nature or athleticism, they do so in the context of formal sports played between elite boarding school teams. To Lee, Dave represents a refreshing but frightening departure from the social norms she's used to.
Tupperware of Lasagna (Metaphor)
Lee does not expect Martha to win the class's election and become a senior class prefect, and when she does win, Lee feels less proud than jealous and confused. As a result, she avoids Martha for a long time, hoping to miss her early moments of unbridled excitement. Instead, she plans to wait until Martha calms down, so that she can "hand her reaction to (Lee) as a tidy package: a single square of lasagna in a sealed Tupperware container as opposed to a squalid kitchen with tomato sauce splattered on the counters." This metaphor reminds us of Lee's discomfort with emotional openness in general. She is supportive and empathetic as long as her friends' emotions are contained, but the moment they feel messy—either messily joyful or messily depressed, as Sin-Jun feels after her suicide attempt—Lee retreats. Sometimes, as in this distance, she even hides. Furthermore, the contents of this metaphor reveal Lee's humble frame of reference. The metaphorical language she uses revolves around home-cooking and inexpensive kitchen staples like lasagna. Even at Ault, in her more troubled moments, Lee's subconscious mind turns to memories from home rather than memories of boarding school.
Soreness from Hiking (Simile)
The first time she has sex with Cross, Lee reflects that the soreness she feels afterward is similar to the soreness she feels after hiking: "because of a thing you were glad to have done." The choice to compare sex with hiking is revealing in several ways. For one thing, hiking is a difficult activity and a skill requiring practice. Lee regards sex in much the same way. In fact, later on, Cross tells her that her attitude was "businesslike." The ambitious side of her personality emerges when she is with Cross, and she feels motivated to learn and improve. Furthermore, hiking is generally regarded as a healthy, wholesome hobby. While Lee's meetings with Cross are forbidden, she does not feel that they are engaging in a dangerous or inadvisable habit. Instead, having sex with Cross feels correct to her. Therefore, her soreness feels like a trophy rather than a neutrally unpleasant physical sensation.
Riding Across a Lake (Simile)
At the end of Prep, Lee describes what it feels like to tell people about her boarding-school days now that she is an adult, far from the cloistered world of Ault. She compares the conversations to "a lake I was riding across, and as long as we didn’t dwell on the subject, or as long as I didn’t think the person would understand anyway, even if I tried to explain, I could remain on the surface." In other words, Lee has developed the ability to discuss her schooldays without becoming overwhelmed, so long as she does not think deeply about those days or discuss them in detail. Problems arise, though, if she becomes too absorbed in the topic. "I’d be yanked beneath, into cold and weedy water. Down there, I could not see or breathe..." she explains, extending the lake metaphor further. However, Lee explains, the problem with this immersion is not the immersion itself but emerging back into the reality of the world outside Ault. Though Lee views her school memories as similar to a dangerous body of water, she finds the danger and intensity of that water preferable to the low-stakes world of the surface.
Prep Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Prep is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.