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Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
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Paper Covers Rock

by Jenny Hubbard

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The book opens with the narrator explaining why, after two years of letting the journal his father gave him when he went away to boarding school lay fallow on his shelf, he is now writing in his journal. The narrator, Alex Stromm, is writing the journal for himself spurred to do so by the death of his friend and classmate, Thomas Broughton, from drowning. Alex's thoughts, feelings, and overall reaction to this event comprise the rest of the novel. The story he tells involves another friend, Glenn, and a special teacher, Miss Dovecott, who is just a few years older than Alex, the junior student, and who encourages his writing especially his budding efforts at poetry. As he records his thoughts in the journal his relationships, both school and family, become clearer. There are a few touching moments such as Alex's letter of condolence to Thomas' parents that opens, "I have been wanting to write for a couple of weeks now, but I did not know exactly what to say or how to say it, so I have put it off. Now I realize that I will never know exactly what to say or how to say it. . . " (pp 64-65) Both the poetry and the prose in the book limn a young student of above-average ability. The writing ability helps Alex express his feelings about both love and death as he tries to move forward in his school life. Near the end of the book he writes, "...and he'll leave it as others have left it, as others will leave it, boys stepping into who they are without ever having known who they were." (p 163) , suggesting he still has work to do, and he is developing the maturity to do so.

The book is laced with literary references, primarily to Moby-Dick which inspired Alex's literary nom de plume of "Is Male". This is both a literary reference and a symbol of his young male hormones that are as much a reason as any for his crush on Miss Dovecott. The tone throughout is one of mystery and melancholy; mystery as to the nature of Alex's involvement with the death of his friend Thomas and melancholy as his feelings are poured out over the pages of his journal. The result is a subtle portrayal of how one teenager matures through dealing with loyalty, honor, and love in a boarding school environment. While the novel is reminiscent of John Knowles' A Separate Peace, it does not quite match that novel's literary heft. However, I was impressed with the author's lucid prose and moved by the slight story. I appreciated young Alex's appreciation of reading in the opening pages when he wrote in his journal, "Read to your heart's content. Though if you are a reader, the heart is never content." (p 2) ( )
  jwhenderson | Feb 27, 2014 |
I have to give at least four stars for Hubbard's poetic, literary writing and complex narrative structure (it's more of a set of connected vignettes that move back and forth in time than a straight forward-momentum shot). I also have to give at least four stars to the actual poems in the novel, written by Alex, the narrator, a couple of which gave me the shivers.

As for my overall enjoyment and emotional investment, though, I can't give this more than 2 stars. I'll try to get more into why this didn't work for me as a story later (rather than a collection of short, beautifully written pieces), but mostly, I think it is because I found the whole "young writer writing about himself while being self-aware of how his writing informs his life" tiresome after a while. I have a pretty high tolerance for self-reflexive narratives, but there needs to be something other to offset the intense navel-gazing. I got tired of all the Moby Dick references, the Hemingway references, and the Simon & Garfunkel references. I got tired of all the direct addresses to the reader, and all the times Alex says something like "if this were a novel, and I was a character, I would . . . . " I got tired of the author (Hubbard, I mean, but also Alex, insomuch as he is the 'author' of this story) dancing around whatever dark secrets they all have (their "darkest selves"), which are slowly revealed but then end up under-explored emotionally. This story doesn't build to a climax, or a moment of truth, or a big reveal, but sort of stutters along a baseline, never straying too far.

None of this is necessarily bad. I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for loving this book. It might even come down to mood. It's a subdued, contemplative novel that never stops being melancholy, not even for a second, and later on, I might be in the mood to sit quietly and revel in the language and think deep thoughts. But then I might just choose to read A Separate Peace again, instead.

Also, the boy on the cover is brooding so hard he is going to pop a vein!

( )
  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
Reviewed from library copy

Very similar to A Separate Peace. Didn't that character die by drowning after a swimming prank went bad (swinging from a branch or some such)? I read it in high school, so it's a bit hazy. It felt like just a slightly updated version. Only the author didn't check what day of the week things were in 1982 - October 15 was a Friday, not a Sunday that year. ( )
  kcarrigan | Aug 26, 2013 |
Paper Covers Rock is a beautifully written book. It is written in journal style not the normal form. As I kept reading it, it kept reminding me of a book that I read back in high school but I couldn’t put my finger on the title. When I finished reading it, it suddenly dawned on me that it was similar to A Separate Peace by John Knowles ( I loved that book back then).

The cover doesn’t do justice to the story within. After the death of their friend Thomas, Alex and Glenn begin a journey full of lies to cover for them being at the river. As we keep reading, the journal style narration slowly begins to unravel what happened to the days leading up to the fateful day of Thomas’ death and what happens after. The tension slowly begins to build up as Alex and Glenn’s try to find out exactly how much their teacher Miss Dovecott knows about that day.

The characters were well characterized and we’re able to relate to Thomas and Miss Dovecott, and despise Glenn and his selfish actions. The boarding school politics come into play here as well and people get away with things that should not be possible.

Overall, Paper Covers Rock kept me on my toes, waiting to see what really happened and why it happened to Thomas. ( )
  bleu21 | May 23, 2013 |
1. I like that this is set in the 1980s and not in the present day - after reading so much contemporary fiction set in the modern day, this was refreshing, and it was achieved delicately, without lots of heavy-handed references to the Reagan administration or KISS. The main difference, actually, is in the attitudes toward homosexuality.

2. It is reminiscent of A Separate Peace, but there are a few key differences: one, there's no question of Thomas having been pushed to his death by the narrator; two, the narrator, Alex, was not the only one there when Thomas died. Instead of dealing with grief and guilt alone, he has a friend in the same situation - but that friend complicates more than he simplifies.

3. As in much of YA literary fiction, other literary works are used as a touchstone, especially Moby-Dick (though Alex does not ever make it past the first chapter - again, refreshingly honest). A few of "Alex's" own poems are scattered throughout the book and they are pretty good - not cringe-inducing failed attempts, nor so good that they couldn't have been written by a teenager.

4. The letter Alex writes to Thomas' parents (p. 64-65) is as good a condolence message as any I have ever seen ("...Now I realize that I will never know exactly what to say or how to say it...")

Read to your heart's content. Though if you are a reader, the heart is never content. (2)

Loss of innocence is the knowledge that your brain, no matter how much you cajole it, can never make your heart pure. (73)

The brain is like a tree, and the tree has roots so deep that you have no idea what it is that grounds you. (130)

Lose an arm in the tow,
shed the shell, breathe
farewell in the waves.
(130)

Poetry is a way of seeing the world with your feelings. (148)

...and he'll leave it as others have left it, as others will leave it, boys stepping into who they are without ever having known who they were. (163)

( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385740557, Hardcover)

"In the tradition of John Knowles's A Separate Peace."--Publisher Weekly, Starred
"One of the best young adult books I've read in years."--Pat Conroy
William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In 1982 Buncombe County, North Carolina, sixteen-year-old Alex Stromm writes of the aftermath of the accidental drowning of a friend, as his English teacher reaches out to him while he and a fellow boarding school student try to cover things up.

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