Author(s): Jenny Hubbard
Edition: Paperback, 192 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Source: Won from Random Buzzers
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At the beginning of his junior year at a boys' boarding school, 16-year-old Alex is devastated when he fails to save a drowning friend. When questioned, Alex and his friend Glenn, who was also at the river, begin weaving their web of lies. Plagued by guilt, Alex takes refuge in the library, telling his tale in a journal he hides behind Moby-Dick. Caught in the web with Alex and Glenn is their English teacher, Miss Dovecott, fresh out of Princeton, who suspects there's more to what happened at the river when she perceives guilt in Alex's writing for class. She also sees poetic talent in Alex, which she encourages. As Alex responds to her attention, he discovers his true voice, one that goes against the boarding school bravado that Glenn embraces. When Glenn becomes convinced that Miss Dovecott is out to get them, Alex must choose between them.
Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard has a high literary tone. It reminds me of Catcher in the Rye or The Dead Poet's Society based on the characterization and quality of writing, as well as the incorporation of other literary works within the story. While I enjoyed this book, I'm not sure it would appeal to a large number of readers.
The story is paralleled extensively with Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The protagonist, Alex, uses it as a guide to express himself and deal with what has happened to Thomas, one of his friends, as well as using poetry to express his guilt. As I was reading, all I could think that this was an English major's book. The imagery and prose is beautifully crafted utilizing literary references and self-reflection to a create a story within a story. Like Ishmael, Alex is fighting to find his place after feeling alienated, and this is where the book transcends YA to Adult fiction.
Now I'm not saying that teenagers wouldn't enjoy this book, but I think it would be a small demographic and most likely older teens from 17-19 (Juniors and Seniors by grade). This is due to the elaborate plot and duality of narratives. Alex's exploration of what happened within his journal and the physical events of the story mix together to create a layered reality. Adding to that, there are illusions of a sexual relationship with Alex's English teacher, Miss Dovecott. While never acted upon, the fantasies are very specific and lend a slight predatory tone to the story. This works well for the story, but increases the maturity level of the book.
Overall, this is a beautifully written narrative with some gorgeous poems interspersed, which are meant to be "written" by Alex. It is not a "contemporary story", but a realistic story, one that will capture the book lover and mystery lover alike. But don't take my word for it, check out Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard for yourself!
Book Cover: 4/5
Book Title: 4/5
Overall: 44/50: B+