As dubious as I am about reading Young Adult books, I’m always surprised when I manage to find one that’s really worth the read. It seems as if 2013 has been a charm for choosing really good ones. Paper Covers Rock is the story of Alex. A sixteen year old boy lacking assurance and attending an ivy league style boarding school. A tragic incident occurs at the school when one of the boys dives head first off a rock into a river on campus and dies. Thomas’s death is recounted along with Alex’s guilt. He’s writing everything in his trusty journal which is addressed to the us, the reader. His feelings of guilt are accompanied with all the other awkward emotions of adolescence i.e. has low self-esteem, very self-critical, headstrong, yet fearful and easily coerced into doing stupid things.
The structure of the book consists of journal entries written in first person and in between those are dialogues. Alex begins by explaining to us that his father gave him the journal a few years earlier and told him to fill it with his thoughts and that’s exactly what he does. The first chapter is called “Call me Is Male”, which is an allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – a clever play on words. The first line in Moby Dick is “Call me Ishmael”. It’s very interesting how Hubbard tries to make this parallel to Moby Dick. As a matter of fact, the book is filled with literary references. Writing represents the way Alex tries to conceal his guilt but also the way he tries to redeem himself. His talent for writing is the only good thing that comes out of this tragedy. In the beginning, he isn’t at all aware of his talent for writing. He is given various writing assignments by his English teacher, Miss Dovecott, who is enchanted by Alex’s writing talent. However, she immediately identifies Alex’s guilt which shines through his writing. So she continues to give more original writing assignments to try and uncover his guilty secret. The journal entries give a certain familiarity to the reader. We are literally privy to all of Alex’s intimate thoughts and emotions. We trust him, care about him, and empathise with him. We are lead to believe that all he recounts is reliable. Hubbard did an excellent job with the voices of Alex and Glenn. There was no doubt for me that they were boys. She was also brilliant with orchestrating the story(using the writing to reconstruct the retelling of the sad day of Thomas’s death and the surrounding events) and adding a bit of suspense at the same time. Paper Covers Rock isn’t a long book and can be read in a two-hour sitting. As the story progressed, I found myself reading faster because I wanted to know how all this was going to end. This book brought out that I was glad I wasn’t an adolescent in high school anymore. Loads of angst and grief and insecurities. Hubbard got all that spot on. Even though, it was well worth the read and a welcome change to the typical Young Adult novels that are popular at the moment. I’d suggest this one for adolescents and adults(young at heart) who like reading realistic stories, with a mix of contemporary and a dash of literature about them.
Jenny Hubbard was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award for Paper Covers Rock in 2012. Paper Covers Rock was released in 2011. This award goes to a debut innovative novels written for adolescents. The award has only been in existence for five years. The winner in 2012 was Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. The 2013 winner was Seraphina by Rachel Hartmen, which is quite popular. The finalists were Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, After the Snow by S.D. Crockett, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. If you’re interested in quality YA, these titles looked pretty interesting when I checked them out. The YALSA – Young Adult Library Services Association, a branch of the American Library Association, administers the award every year at the end of January. Hubbard was also an English teacher for ten years in a boys boarding school so I guess that experience inspired her to write this book. She has a second novel, title undetermined, that will be released at the end of 2013. Check out the video below for more information on Paper Covers Rock and on Jenny Hubbard.
Title: Paper Covers Rock
Genre: Young Adult/Realistic Fiction/Coming of Age/ Mystery
Edition: Random House
My rating: * * * * 1/2
My favorite quote: ”The campus is more beautiful to adults than it is to us: we see it as a fishbowl, and they see it as a nest, with the stone buildings tucked inside the rolling hills at the feet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, supposedly the oldest chain of mountains in the United States. To adults,old is cozy. To us, old is something we can’t imagine we will ever be.” (Paper Covers Rock, pp. 20-21)