This weekend’s Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase, poses an interesting question: describe a book that was widely considered to be “literary” but in your opinion, was not.
I wonder if every book blogger has a book they “love to hate”? I do, so the answer to this question came quickly: Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld.
My husband asked, upon hearing this question, how do you determine whether something is considered literary? There are a lot of ways to answer that question, and we’ve discussed this before — including strong writing, meaningful messages, characters that resonate and teach us something, and new ways to look at important times and places in history. But in the case of Prep, I have a pretty easy answer. Prep was actually picked by the New York Times Book Review as the best novel of 2005.
They described the book as:
This calm and memorably incisive first novel, about a scholarship girl who heads east to attend an elite prep school, casts an unshakable spell and has plenty to say about class, sex and character.
I can actually remember shaking the paper in disgust when that pronouncement came out.
I understand that every year has its “It” books — say Freedom or The Passage — and those books aren’t going to appeal to everyone. But I found Prep to be trite, annoying, and overwritten. It’s the story about a teenage girl who goes to an elite boarding school, gets caught up in her poor self-esteem, and basically spends most of her time sleeping with a guy who (she knows) won’t actually date her.
I understand about self-esteem issues. I understand about trying to figure yourself out in high school, navigating the perils of teen sexuality and dating, and dealing with issues of appearance, class, and academic competition. I lived all those things, although not in a fancy prep school. And yet I failed utterly to sympathize with the main character in this book. All of the characters felt stereotypical and the story trite and unimaginative. I feel like there are so many more great books about the high school experience. This book is no Catcher in the Rye or A Separate Peace. There are those who considered this book the definitive novel about girls’ teenage experience in the 80s. It was not that for me.
I read this book six years ago so I can’t describe it in more detail than that. I finished it grudgingly, expecting it to get better and it did not; and the fact of its literary success just made me hate it more.