A witty, involving boarding-school drama from Seventeen magazine award-winner Sittenfeld.
Seduced by media depictions of glamorous boarding-school life, South Bend teenager Lee Fiora uses her straight-A average as a ticket out of her LCM (lower middle class, in prep-school speak) home, winning a scholarship to tony Ault. But once there, she’s immediately the dorkey outcast, relegated to the company of the ethnics and the weirdoes. The rest could have been a standard nerd narrative, as Lee pursues the unattainably cool and gorgeous Cross Sugerman and finds an unexpected niche cutting hair for the popular kids. But Sittenfeld is too serious to let the story lapse into cliché. Instead of triumphing, her underdog is gradually corrupted by her frustrated social climbing. Lee’s grades flag while she obsesses about being liked; Cross does finally come to her bed, but keeps it a shameful secret, using her only as an easy sexual outlet. While resenting the popular kids, Lee is too vain to court them, preferring to lurk resentfully in her room. When her loving but lowbrow family comes to visit, she tries only to hide them, sacrificing her parents for an elusive popularity. By the end, Lee’s father has turned his back on her, remarking, “Sorry I couldn’t buy you a big house with a palm tree, Lee. Sorry you got such a raw deal for a family.” Her one close friend and roommate, Martha, serves as a foil. Beginning as an outsider like Lee, Martha finally becomes the senior prefect, generally liked for her straightforward kindness. As for Lee, we never lose sympathy for her, even when it becomes clear that it’s not her classmates’ snobbery but her own that isolates her. The boarding-school formula allows newcomer Sittenfeld the comforting slippers-and-ice-cream haven of chick-lit while allowing much more in the way of psychological insight.
Teenaged years served up without sugar: a class act.