Thursday, December 22, 2005


Lee Fiora is a 14 year old from South Bend, Indiana, who goes to a snobby boarding school in New England. I am twice her age, stayed at pretty much the same school in my hometown in India when I grew up, and am now old and married. So what do I have in common with Lee?
Nothing, it would seem on surface... and yet, so much, judging by how much I loved the book - 'Prep' by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Lee is me in high school, shy withdrawn, painfully self-conscious, always wondering what people are thinking about her, worried that her parents may embarass her in front of her friends, worried that she may be saying too little or too much, not knowing what to do or how to behave but terribly lonely nevertheless, wanting a friend and longing....aching for a boyfriend. She has a crush on her classmate but she is too terrified to ever take it beyond the realm of her imagination on her own initiative. That was me... other girls in my class went around with boys, but me.. I looked and I longed but never said a word.

Lee has a reason - she was not weird in Indiana. She became this way, because she was a poor hicksville girl in a school filled with rich sophisticated people. She did not fit in and she desperately wanted to. What was my excuse? I've been trying to come up with one, but honestly, I don't know. I know I did not fit in, but I don't know why.

The book ends with Lee finishing school and leaving for college. She ends with the note that college and life thereafter was not as difficult and in fact seemed boring compared to her travails at boarding school. I wish I were as lucky! This time in a strange city (Madras seemed pretty posh to me), away from my parents in a hostel surrounded by seemingly hostile seniors, and my posh well dressed classmates who listened to English music, at least I had more reason to not fit in. Just like Lee, I had maybe one or two good friends. Small incidents like a word of praise for a poem I wrote made me feel weirdly dangerously happy and I felt most alive then.
Lee feels happy whenever someone acknowledges her existence since she is pretty certain that no one notices her (when she is not busy being terrified that everyone is noticing her). I know exactly how that feels!

And of course I fell in love in college, an obsessive love just like Lee's, that went nowhere beyond the confines of my diary and my mind. She went to school games for a glimpse of her love. I would visit the coffee shop everyday, for a glimpse of mine, if he by some miracle decided to have coffee that day. Sometimes he would smile - not a proper defined smile, but merely a wisp of a smile, granted to someone that he knows is from the same department as him, but knows little else about. That one shadow of a smile forgotten by him the next instant, could feed my imagination for days on end and I would smile again and again everytime I thought of that smile.

However, I didn't really need to be like Lee to have liked the book. I liked Sittenfeld's introspective style of writing with her startling but so true observations about people and about life. I am definitely looking forward to her next book due this summer. I started reading this book under the impression that it was a teen read ( like 'Harry Potter' or 'His Dark Materials' meant for teens, but appealing to adults like me). While some teens might read this book, I believe an adult would appreciate it better, having had some time to look back on their own teenage years and reflect, as I did.

Happy New Year everyone (If anyone reads this site)! One of my new year resolutions is to read more. I've made a booklist in my local library website. 20 books - mostly fiction with a smattering of non-fiction, mostly lifted off the NY times bestseller list, with a couple of books from John Wyndham thrown in for good measure. Hopefully I will manage to read them all.

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