Hubbard, J. (2011). Paper covers rock. New York: Delacorte Press.
Four friends secretly take a bottle to the river to share. While enjoying this respite from school, a dare ends in the death of a friend and a subsequent cover-up of the events to save the survivors from expulsion. When Miss Dovecott, an English teacher who sees Alex as a fledgling writer, starts asking questions about the accident, Alex confesses his confusion and guilt in a journal he hides in the library as he tries to deal with his accountability and feelings of guilt. As he reviews the events leading to the tragedy Alex starts to question if the death was really an accident.
Alex is suffering a personal and moral dilemma; he feels great guilt for what happened at the river but he is afraid of the consequences if anyone finds out. He has no one he trusts to talk to. So, he turns to a trusted teacher through a series of letters, poems, and journal entries he writes that he will never share. Through these writings, Alex describes the events leading to the death of his friend. He struggles with his confused memories of his friends and their conversations which suggest the accident may have been contrived to hide darker secrets. He exposes his attraction to his English teacher, Miss Dovecott. Finally, he acknowledges his weakness and flawed character.
The convention of epistolary writing sets the tone and controls the movement of the plot. Hubbard’s decision to have Alex tell the story through his letters and journal adds an extra level of intimacy to the reader’s experience while portraying the contractions in Alex’s emotions and actions. Using a first person limited view, Hubbard continues the theme of contradiction by providing the reader with full disclosure from one flawed point of view.
Another strength of this debut novel is its’ foundation built on classic literature and use of poetry. The use of poetry is particularly effective in building the tension in the themes of attraction and betrayal that underlay the plot.
When a dare ends in the death of a friend, sixteen-year-old Alex uses his journal to try to understand what happened – was it an accident or was it murder?
Information About the Author:
Paper Covers Rocks is a debut novel for Jenny Hubbard. Hubbard has taught English classes at the high school and the college level. In fact, she has also taught in a private all-boys boarding school.
Jenny is also a poet and very active in the theatre where is an actor and a playwright.
For more information please see her site: http://papercoversrock.co/
- Epistolary writing
- Journal writing – start by reading one of Alex’s letters.
Reading Level/Interest Age:
- Ages 14 and up
- Reading level 6.4
Why did you include this title?:
I reviewed this book for our book club at the high school I teach. It was one of my favorite books last year. I have incorporated the review into this post.
- Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, April 25, 2011:
“Hubbard has a superb handle on her boarding school setting…A powerful, ambitious debut.”
- Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
“The story builds to a climax that will have readers on edge. It could be read alongside many of the classics that deal with friendship and loyalty, as well as deceit…Those who are looking for something to ponder will enjoy this compelling read.”
- Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2011:
“Hubbard’s characters are confounding and intriguing…The traditional, buttoned-up boarding school setting makes the perfect backdrop to this tense dictation of secrets, lies, manipulation, and the ambiguity of honor.”
- Starred Review, Booklist, July 1, 2011:
“Both plotting and characters are thoroughly crafted in this stellar first novel. The poetry that Hubbard produces from Alex’s pen is brilliant, and the prose throughout is elegant in its simplicity. Reminiscent of John Knowles’ classic coming-of-age story, A Separate Peace (1959), this novel introduces Hubbard as a bright light to watch on the YA literary scene.”
- Winner 2011 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Award
- Winner 2011 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
- Winner 2011 Horn Book Fanfare
- Winner 2011 Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
- Nominee ALA Best Books for Young Adults
- Nominee North Carolina Children’s Book Award
- Nominee Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
- Nominee Young Adult Services Division, School Library Journal Author Award
- 2012 Williams C. Morris Finalist http://www.ala.org/yalsa/morris