Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
Ember, 2012, 192 pages
In Jenny Hubbard’s Paper Covers Rock, Alex returns to his private boarding school only to watch his close friend drunkenly dive off a rock in the woods and die. Convinced that revealing the truth of the alcohol use would expose him to the potential of being expelled, Alex keeps this secret along with others as the administration works out the details of the tragedy. Glenn doesn’t help, either, as he uses Alex to get close to a teacher they believe might have seen what actually happened. In a school full of boys, terrified by the sexuality of themselves and others, Alex and Glenn commit themselves to a series of self-serving acts while dealing with their own grief and conflict.
Remember how I said I love stories about privileged white boys in boarding schools doing awful things? Boy, does this book cover it. Not only is the writing style striking, moving, heavily characterizing, and thought-provoking, but the subtle movement of the plot makes this book a great piece of young adult literary fiction — a rare find, in my experience. In many ways, if you wished there was a watered down version of The Secret History, I’d be wholly tempted to hand you this novel. Set in the eighties (I suspect, largely, to avoid the problem of having a cell phone that could solve 99% of the problems in the book — such is a writer’s life), the novel takes hints from the great ones before it and even includes the text in some of those, including Moby Dick. The novel is absolutely ripe with opportunities for literary analysis (hint, hint, high school students) and a gorgeous reminder of the importance of literature around us.
So, yeah, maybe it’s a bit narcissistic, but I’d argue the same is true of Dead Poets Society and who doesn’t love a good self-pat on the back? It’s probably safe to assume many or most people reading a book appreciate content about books and literature, anyway. Being extra familiar with the materials referred to in the book (especially Emily Dickinson and the aforementioned Moby Dick) will significantly enhance the reading experience when it comes to Paper Covers Rock. Many of the scenes take place in Alex’s English class, taught by the recent Yale graduate, Ms. Dovecott, on whom Alex has a major crush. In one scene, you get to play along with the class as Ms. Dovecott pulls an explication of a Dickinson poem from the class.
Alex’s universe feels rather small in the novel. Even within the school, only a few select characters have a presence large enough to indicate that Alex is not alone. Although he’s in school, other students play relatively small parts in his story and the world outside the school is all but non-existent. This, perhaps, is an accurate portrayal of a teenage boys’ world — or, at least, Alex’s world, especially as Alex is so introverted and introspective — but I think a little farther reach could have done a lot for Paper Covers Rock.
One of the most interesting things about this novel is its discussion of homosexuality, especially as homosexuality in the 1980s. I’m hesitant to say much more in the spirit of avoiding spoilers, but, even as most of its presence throughout the book is subtle, the concept within Alex’s world makes for an especially interesting read and look at human (and, more specifically, teenage boy) nature.
I really can’t say enough good things about Hubbard’s writing style. She pulls off a lot of bold strategies and it works to serve the book and its main character. It is, largely, her writing that makes me eager to read her other work. Alex’s characterization comes so much from his first-person narrative that I want to see how she approaches other characters. There are authors out there who have an incredibly distinct voice for a character and it works phenomenally — until you discover that’s their one trick and that voice appears again and again in the rest of their work. Though I can’t say for certain, I have a feeling that’s not the case for Hubbard. This is mainly because even in their speaking voices, other characters in the book are distinct.
Hubbard bring together all the best elements of one of my favorite genres — angst, some peripheral character narration, an unreliable narrator, wealth, philosophy, and literature. There are so many little things that you can pull out of this book and look at in a million different lights. It’s a cerebral experience, but a relaxing and enjoyable one — definitely a book not to be missed.
❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤