Release date: 14th June 2011 US
Genre: Realism / Bildungsroman
Target audience: 12+US Publisher: Delacourte Press
Paper Covers Rock is a literary tale which explores the honour code of an all boys’ boarding school. It is a novel that transcends genre and is hard to define – it is part thriller, part coming of age story, part exploration of grief, loss, sanity and love. It is also pays homage to the Great American Novel and yet at times it questions that weighty label. Between so few pages, Jenny Hubbard weaves a story about transgressions with the poetry of life and the nature of truth. It is not an easily accessible read but it is a rewarding one and I know that I’ll be periodically rereading this book for years to come.
At the heart of the story are three boys. There is the narrator – Alex Stromm – the Good Solid Kid. There is his friend Thomas Broughton who tragically dies and in doing so is the catalyst for the story. Then there is Glenn Albright Everson, the third, – the Golden Boy. The story is told through Alex’s secret journal as he documents the events leading up to Thomas’s death and the aftermath, the guilt and the grief. Thomas tells the story with the help of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – the heading of the chapters’ structure his narrative around this Great American Novel. I have not read Moby Dick – neither has Alex, he can’t get past the first chapter – but that did not prevent me from understanding this novel. If anything, Alex’s references to the Greats of American Literature really made me want to sample their work and see if it “fitted” me.
I don’t want to talk about the plot because I think you need to discover what happened that tragic day by reading the novel the way the author intended. I will tell you that Hubbard captures the human need to follow a code. She explores how it is easier to follow a code than to deviate from it. There is a security in the unwritten code however unforgiving and brutal that code is. Despite the deep reflective nature of the book, there are brief moments of humour. For me the real comfort was communicated through Alex and his beautiful poetry. Alex is rather a fantasist. He is in love with his English teacher Miss Dovecott and she awakens in him a great lust but also his gift for poetry. His narrative is painfully honest and convincing which brings me to the nature of truth. Can we ever find peace without it? Are their values that are more important than truth? I could go on but I could never say all that Hubbard says in these eloquently written pages.
Paper Covers Rock does not perhaps leave one with a wonderful perception of boarding schools – in some ways it reminded me a little of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld which I absolutely love. If there is only one of Alex’s observations that will stay with me, it will be this: it will take our whole lives for us to find out who we are because we become closer to, or further away from, our true selves with every decision that we make. Paper Covers Rock mesmerised me. It drew me into its poetry. I can’t wait to see what Jenny Hubbard writes next. This book spoke to me. Breathtaking.