Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Lee Fiora is a modest girl from the Midwest, blessed by luck and hours of effort, who has won a place and a scholarship to the Ault school, a prestigious Northeastern boarding school. Vineyard Vines, Ralph Lauren and J. Crew labels are everywhere to be seen, while the school demands more academically than Lee has ever experienced. Awed and apprehensive, Lee begins her Ault career, unsure of her place in this affluent, preppy world. As the weeks and months continue, Lee becomes progressively more alienated, feeling friendless and very much an outsider. She is not privy to East Coast slang, the favorite brands; her hair is not long and sleek, her body not completely soft and slender. The novel follows Lee for her four years at Ault, during which time she becomes hardly more integrated. She spends the overwhelming majority of her high school years feeling self-conscious and rather miserable, because she feels that any thought, expression or action outside of the norm will alienate her further and cause others to think badly of her.

I liken this feeling of being scrutinized to the concept of the “panopticon,” in the book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. A panopticon is a circular jail, arranged around a central well so that the prisoners could be watched at all times. Because of the constant assumption that they were being watched, the prisoners behaved and little watching ever really had to occur. In Prep, and in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, the boarding school atmosphere makes for a sort of panopticon—an environment in which everyone feels as though they are always being watched, and behave accordingly. For Frankie, in Disreputable History, the panopticon serves to fascinate her and spark a rebellion within her. In Prep, the panopticon makes Lee miserable, for she feels as though her every move must be calculated to follow what the popular students are doing, and she spends more time desperately trying to fit in than she does nearly anything else. Life with a desperate and masochistic motivation such as this is not a happy one; Lee is constantly miserable and ends up allowing herself to be used sexually by a popular boy, for after wanting so long to be wanted, she grasps at the first possibility. Lee acts for almost the sole motivation of wanting not necessarily to be accepted –for being different is never desirable—but included.

Prep was written by Curtis Sittenfeld, sort of as a memoir. Sittenfeld attended a very prestigious boarding school as a teenager, and changed the name and a few key facts in the book, in order to somewhat protect its identity. Knowing this as I read was a little sad, for Curtis, alias Lee, has such an awful time in the text.

Prep is the bittersweet story of a girl who enters into a lavish world that seems ideal to her, but quickly learns that the pressure to be the unattainable elite is suffocating, and she finds herself barely gasping for breath over the four years of her life there. The really sad thing was that by the end of the novel, Lee does not seem to have really learned anything. She has not decided to be true to herself, or not care what others think of her. Perhaps this is more realistic, but it is still rather melancholy.

Prep is basically a depressing read. And though the insights on life at such an institution as Ault were interesting and well-explored, often the book lagged in Lee’s despair and alienation.

Though I cannot say that Prep was pleasurable to read—it is certainly not uplifting—this was probably on purpose, for the author’s intentions clearly were not to make the reader gleeful. What the book did do was make me think, and I am always glad for a literary opportunity to do so. It concerned me a bit as well, for I am in the midst of applying to schools like Ault for high school, and Prep made me fear that a cold, elitist world is the one I am about to enter into. All in all it was a pretty good, if unsettling, read.

I give Prep a three out of five evil daggers.

Preppily yours,



Nightlight: A Parody by The Harvard Lampoon

For those of you who desire the short, sweet version, Nightlight is a parody of Twilight. The basic storyline is similar enough to mock Twilight, yet different enough to be its own work of fiction. Belle Goose moves from Pheonix to Switchblade, Oregon to live with her father Jim, a window wiper. Belle has an obsession with dating a vampire. At her new school, she meets Edwart Mullen, a super-hot (yet fictitious) computer nerd with such a lack of social skills, one could argue he has negative social skills. After noticing a few events, such as Edwart leaving his lunch untouched, Belle realizes Edwart is a vampire. Clearly, this girl is a master of the scientific method.

I would say more in my quick summary, but I don't want to spoil the book! It's a very short read. Therefore, the summary is also short. Ironically, my summary for the 400 something page Twilight is about the same length... Quality beats quantity, which is why I recommend Nightlight over Twilight. Nightlight is hilarious! The book is like a Mel Brooks' movie. It's totally cheesy, it's a bit stupid at times, but overall, it is amazing! Some parts will make you laugh out loud (which you can shorten to "lol" if you wish). Other parts will seem a bit over-the-top and stupid. However, the length of the book makes the stupid parts less annoying.

There's not a whole lot to review in regards to this book. It's a parody. Is it funny? Yes. Therefore, it is a success. I recommend reading it, for kicks and giggles.

Four humorous daggers out of five.

Yours vampirically,
Gabriel Gethin


Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Kate Malone is one of those over-achievers; every school has one. Not only is she a straight-A student with especially outstanding grades in math and science, she also happens to be a long distance-running track superstar. She is a minister's daughter. She is dating Mitchell "Mitch" Pangborn III, who is got accepted Early Decision into Harvard. She is the unwilling caretaker of her family, between the death of her mother and the religious duties of her father, Kate is left with most of the house chores. On top of all this, she is a master of avoiding emotions. However, her emotional avoidance skills get put to the test after a series of cataclysmic events turn her life upside-down.

The storyline is pretty good. No complaints about the seriousness of the aforementioned cataclysmic events, they are really quite life changing. The story is easy to relate to, especially for high school students. All high school seniors share a good degree of nervousness over college acceptance. Also, the characters are pretty unique, yet stereotypical. Sound contradicting? It is. Kate Malone, for example, is a classic example of the overachiever student everyone knows will go to some Ivy League school and invent some radical new piece of technology. However, she is not so simple. Sure, she is smart, but she only applies to one school, MIT. Anderson is a master of creating believable, yet unique characters with refreshing amounts of wit. She also develops her characters, and their relationships with one another, beautifully.

Another aspect of Anderson's writing I simply love is her mastery of changing points of view. Not from first person to third person, but changing the way people see the world around them. As the characters' view of one another and the surrounding world change, so also do the reader's. The reader follows the characters' journey as if he/she were a part of it.

The story is set in the same community as Speak, which is pretty exciting if you've read Speak. If you haven't read Speak, what are you waiting for? I gave it five out of five daggers! That's more than enough to convince you to read it. Anyways, there's a great moment in Catalyst where Kate Malone refers to Melinda from Speak, got to love it.

If you've read this far, congratulations. You have patience. Some call it a virtue. As a reward, you get to hear my negative criticism for Catalyst. First things first, it's not as good as Speak. Speak was more humorous, more emotional, and (from a certain angle) more believable. Catalyst wasn't far-fetched. However, the way the events snowball and cause this sort of domino effect makes the story seem less likely to ever happen to a real life person (however, I'm sure someone is going to get lucky). Also, I felt much sorrier for Melinda than for Kate.

Nevertheless, Catalyst was most certainly enjoyable.

4 potentially painful daggers, out of the potentially more painful 5.

Chemically yours,
Gabriel Gethin