Background: This is one of those books I see come across the desk at the library and I think to myself, “hmm… that looks like a fun guilty pleasure.” Of course, when it came time to pick a bunch of books out for my Summer trip to the P.N.W., I grabbed these three novels.
I’ll repeat what everyone else has already said (because it’s true!). When reading the first couple chapters, I thought I’d be reading Gossip Girl or one of those Clique novels, or even Pretty Little Liars. Have you ever read the Pretty Little Liars series? Because I have, and while the stories are creepy and addictive guilt fodder, the protagonists are ad nauseam and quite literally, nauseating. They are not smart, rational, or sympathetic characters. Perhaps the author meant it to be this way? None of the four main characters are sympathetic — they’re mean, duplicitous, and victimize themselves after they hurt others. Not to mention the author, Sara Shepard, likes to name-drop designers in every description just to remind us that the protagonists are (1) Rich and (2) Unashamedly Spoiled.
PLL example quote: Hanna tossed her newly-highlighted and professionally curled blond hair over the shoulder of her Ralph Lauren cardigan her mom bought her as an 8th-grade graduation gift. Of course, it came with the newest black leather Vencenzinetticappiotto bag with the plaid tassel.
It’s Not what You Expect
I was really, really, hoping Prep School Confidential wouldn’t be like that. Get through the first two chapters, and then you’ll soon realize it is NOT like anything you expected to read. Anne is very smart, stands up to authority (within reason) and the complexity of the other characters around her remind me of another prep school series that, if you liked this book, you will probably also enjoy a series called Canterwood Crest, which are about an equestrian prep school, written for a younger audience and it’s sans murder mystery, instead focusing on middle school drama and the relationships between characters (and there’s a lot of character development!). I loved it because the characters’ arcs are so real and well-done. I like the idea of a Queen Bee who’s actually… a decent person. The “arch-nemesis” who’s bitchy but … just trying to make it through life, and isn’t that bad. In both Canterwood Crest and Prep School Confidential, the main “arch nemesis” female characters (Heather and Alexis, respectively) are complex and, honestly, while they’re bitchy, I found myself also sympathizing with them. Sometimes the protagonists are too hard on them.
Anne is kickass, cool, and complex
While Anne grew up running her prep school, she is also not an airhead, as someone pointed out. She’s intelligent, rational, and her plans don’t suck. She participates in her high-level classes. She thinks things through, plans, and keeps her head above the waters of petty drama and BOYZ for the most part. One teeny detail I loved is that Anne narrates to us, when visiting the library, that she pretty much knows her way around the library and where to find the books she needs. She also knows how an archives works (i.e., that she’d have to sign in and ask for specific documents) !!! What other character do you know can do that, besides maybe Hermione?
She is also remarkably real — she finds that she genuinely likes her roommate, Isabella, who is also not a one-dimensional nerd/weirdo and very funny, caring, and goofy. For the most part, Anne keeps her head above water but she’s not above having meltdowns, crying, grieving over her roommate, and feeling bitter that everyone around her, even while Isabella was alive, basically just overlooked her roommate. Anne tries her best not to be hypocritical, as she admits that in the past, she would have done exactly that.
Also tiny details that other readers might have overlooked: When planning something, or thinking about the murder’s clues, there is more than once that Anne mentions an aside that she runs and throws up, cries, or dry-heaves. She is totally human, and totally terrified.
Props to the author for having no “liar revealed” or “brokenhearted roommate” plotline where Anne has to choose between being friends with Isabella and her new popular crew. Speaking of which… her new friends Remy, Kelsey, and (I forget the third one’s name) all have their personality quirks. Kelsey is hilarious because she’s overdramatic and stupid about guys. Remy is like, the prettiest one, who looks up to Anne. All the girls flock to Anne at the beginning, kind of reminiscent of Bella in Twilight. They accept that Isabella and Anne are friendly. None of the characters are outwardly mean, they’re actually more realistic than that — they just overlook people like Isabella in favor of their own lives.
I like the complexity of this concept… there are clearly characters comfortable with a … well, comfortable lifestyle. And there are others (like Anne) who feel a little White Guilt/Confused about it. Is it RIGHT for the system to always work in certain people’s favors due to their power and money? Towards the end of the book, she literally smacks us on the head with what she thinks. And the author addresses the other side — is it right for the underprivileged to be bitter, angry, and bite back at the people around them who HAVE the power and money? There isn’t really a resolution to this. I especially loved Anne’s conversations with Boy #2 (no spoilers) who consistently victimizes himself for NOT being of the trust-fund population, and Anne calls him out, saying that she actually respects him and likes him for who he is, and he needs to stop making it seem like she’s treating him like she’s superior.
Picture Your Average New England Historical Brick Ivy-Coated College clouded in mist here. I can picture Anne wandering around the manicured grounds, I love the concept of the (fictional) past of the school’s buildings and students playing an important role. You feel like you’re watching a movie.
Four Stars, because eh it’s not perfect, but I breezed right through. It’s fun, creepy, and the characters are great, which makes it that much more enjoyable.