Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: 4 / 5
I’m not sure exactly what drew me to this one, except that I’d been hearing good things about Curtis Sittenfeld & my university library had a copy of this book.
The story is told in the first person by a girl (now a woman, but we’re not sure how far in the future this reminiscing takes place) from a middle class family in South Bend, IN who, to her surprise as much as her family’s, gets into an elite East Coast boarding school–the kind with a long history and many famous and distinguished alumni–on a scholarship.
The book was, in a way, painful to read, since the narrator Lee is herself having a painful time, mostly due to her own anxiety. I kind of thought I was anxious, but then I read this and I was like, yeah, no, never mind, I guess I’m not really. The thing is, Lee sees herself very much as an outsider, and in certain ways, she is. But it’s more in her mind than anything else; because she feels like she doesn’t fit in, she isolates herself, and yet she is judgmental of people who are friendly with her. She dislikes how students are shallow but she does her best to replicate it herself. She constantly worries about being weird or drawing attention to herself; basically she is just super insecure.
But I think it’s quite accurate in a lot of ways. There was a student in my class who reminds me of Lee so much. She was actually pretty petty/snobbish toward me (apparently she told our mutual friends that once the new school year commenced, she would no longer be hanging out with me because I lowered her social status), but I think it all stemmed from insecurity, and reading this book helped me kind of understand her position. Lee, so anxious about others’ perceptions herself, can’t stand people who are both “plain” and comfortable with themselves, as if the only people in the world who should be allowed any sort of confidence or eccentricity need to approach physical perfection. I think a lot of people, and especially teen girls, feel this way. Soon after finishing this book, I was able to attend a talk recently given by Lisa Wade, who wrote American Hookup (she’s also the person behind the Sociological Images blog), and I was strongly reminded of certain parts of this book. Overall, I think it does what it does very well.