Friday, 20 February 2015
Review: Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: June 12th, 2012
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.
After reading Jenny Hubbard's And We Stay, I was left with the overwhelming need to read everything she's ever written. My search led me to Paper Covers Rock, first published in 2011 and a finalist in the William C. Morris Debut Award. As expected, the writing is top-notch, the story complex and the emotions strong, similar in part to And We Stay but also more literary and requiring more attention.
I didn't expect this book to be quite so literary, but it is and consequently it took me longer to read than I anticipated. Although the page count is short, there's a lot going on and it's one of those books that requires the reader's undivided attention. The timeline switches frequently, between past and present events, and to unravel the whole story takes time. I wouldn't say it's an easy read at all, but it's a rewarding one.
Paper Covers Rock focuses on sixteen-year-old Alex, a junior at a prestigious boys' boarding school. He's a witness to his friend's death by drowning, and every day he's living with the guilt of not being able to save him. As further facts about that day come to light, Alex is faced with tough decisions that could change everyone's lives. He chooses to write his story in a journal, hiding it in the school library in the hopes that it will remain secret and safe.
This is a sad story, one steeped in lies and grief. It's a cautionary tale of how people have the power to bring others to ruin and how, ultimately, no-one can be trusted explicitly. It's a candid look at a teacher-student relationship, how that can easily be misconstrued and manipulated. It's also a look at friendship and how they fail, and the lengths friends will go to to protect each other. This story is a lot of things - at times maybe too intricate, too ambitious - but it's mostly honest. Yes it's slow and Alex is somewhat self-indulgent, a fan of his own work, but it all fits together to make a well-written, unusual YA novel about decisions and their consequences.
Paper Covers Rock is by no means an accessible YA novel. It's not easy to whip through in an hour, it's not a happy tale, but it's believable and has a sense of importance about it. The writing is lovely, as is the poetry littered throughout, and Jenny Hubbard has a voice I can't help but be envious of. It's an intelligent read that won't appeal to everyone; if I hadn't already read and enjoyed And We Stay, I don't think I would have sought it out and bought a copy. I'm glad I did though, and I know for sure I'll be reading everything this author writes from now on.