Title: Paper Covers Rock
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release date: June 14th 2011
Genre: Contemporary YA
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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.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I hate having to write this review - I feel terrible about it, because I'm pretty sure it's my own fault I didn't end up liking this book. I could see, objectively, that it was good. But Paper Covers Rock is very, very literary, which I wasn't in the mood for. It requires a lot of work from the reader, and I didn't do the work, so I didn't get anything out of it.
The way Paper Covers Rock is set up is very strange. It's written like a journal, and there are different paragraphs for different days. But those paragraphs aren't in order; Alex, the narrator, just tells us about whatever day he feels like talking about. Each paragraph has a a name, and the paragraphs are split into seemingly random chapters with also seemingly random names. I'm sure all of that has some deep literary meaning, and if I'd looked beneath the surface, I would have seen how smart this set-up is, for whatever reasons. But this book didn't inspire me to look beneath the surface, so all of that was just confusing for me. It took me ages to figure out what happened when and how all the parts fit together. Being confused didn't make we want to keep reading to figure it all out, like it should have; it made me put the book down way too often, which is why it took me so long to get through it.
I don't even know what to say about our main character Alex, because I don't really feel like I got to know him. Again, this is my fault and not the book's - if you'd taken incentive and interpreted more into all of his actions and thoughts, you probably could have gotten a getter grasp of his character. But the way I read it, Alex just bugged me with his apathy. The way Alex talks about himself is strange; Paper Covers Rock is written in first-person, of course, since it's a journal, but Alex also refers to himself in the third person. He has these names for himself and uses those instead of 'I' in some paragraphs. I suppose that shows how he feels like he's just another guy, nothing special, but it felt stilted to me.
Then there's the whole student-crushing-on-his-teacher thing. I wanted to like the story, but the whole thing just made me feel icky and wrong. It bugged me how much of this book is set in English class - I get that it's necessary to show Alex's and Miss Dovecott's relationship, but I have my own English classes and don't really need the detailed descriptions of another one. There are texts printed in the book that the class had to read, and then what they discussed about it, what these texts mean according to the characters. And just... WHY??? Okay, I get that can show the characters' ways of seeing the world and whatnot, but it just made me want to stop reading because, well, I don't care.
Alex's grief for Thomas didn't work for me, either - I didn't feel it. It's more of a what-he-didn't-say kind of book, so reading between the lines, you do see that Alex is hurting. But his grief was never strong enough to make me feel anything. In the beginning, there's some kind of mystery about Thomas's death, but that storyline sadly doesn't go anywhere. I found the ending, - or non-ending, for the lack of resolve - very underwhelming.
A lot of Paper Covers Rock resolves around The Plan - what Glenn and Alex want to do to Miss Dovecott. They want to find out how much she knows about Thomas's accident, and to get her fired so she doesn't tell anyone that she saw them drinking. All of that just made me go, What? Yes, I get that 25 years ago at a strict boarding school, it would have been a kind of big deal if people found out, but getting a teacher fired is better than facing the consequences!? All the drama about that felt very contrived and unnecessary to me. The Plan felt way too complicated and pointless, because why would Miss Dovecott keep quiet and then tell on them? I didn't get all the drama surrounding it.
Really, what it comes down to is that reading this book felt like work. And I read to enjoy. I wanted a story I could enjoy getting lost in, and instead got something much too literary for me. If you like literary fiction, I recommend giving this book a try, but for me, it just wasn't what I was looking for.