Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
An accident by the river at a boy’s boarding school; a set of friends who cover up the truth; a young teacher connects with a student through poetry; one student desperate to keep his biggest secret hidden; a journal writer attempting to piece all the information together; all of these pieces come together in Paper Covers Rock.
What really happened the day Thomas drowned? Alex and Glenn make a pact to cover up the truth. Alex feels a lot of guilt over Thomas’s death and begins to write journal entries (what he likes to refer to as his “great American novel”) trying to piece everything together. Except that it wasn’t just Alex and Glenn by the river, it’s possible that their English teacher, Ms. Dovecott, witnessed everything. As the semester goes on Alex finds himself putting more and more of his thoughts on paper, in his journal and his English assignments, while Glenn becomes more paranoid about what Ms. Dovecott knows to the point that he hatches a plan to intimidate her into silence. Will Alex go along with Glenn’s plan or will his guilt force him to come clean?
I’ve wanted to read Paper Covers Rock since I first heard about it earlier this year. The cover copy reminded me slightly of A Separate Peace. The comparisons are easy to make - both novels are set at a boy’s boarding school, a tragic accident occurs, lies are told about what really happened, but that’s where the similarities end. A Separate Peace was set during World War II; it was almost a character itself in how it affected the lives of the characters, while Paper Covers Rock is set in 1982, where boarding school politics take center stage.
Overall, Paper Covers Rock lived up to my expectations. It is beautifully written and the author’s background as teacher, poet and playwright are evident in the way the story was set up and executed. Alex’s journal entries and the homework assignments he adds give a picture of a boy who feels a lot of guilt over what happened to his best friend. He is desperately trying to figure out why and how Thomas could have died and through is writing learns the reason behind the death. I love that he hides out in the library when he’s writing and that he hides his journal behind a copy of Moby Dick because he knows no one will be checking it out anytime soon.
The action really focuses on Alex, Glenn and Ms. Dovecott. They are the most developed characters. Alex does mention other students in his year and some of them are introduced in English class, but they mostly seemed like filler. Not every character has to be fully developed, so I was okay with this. I only wished that Alex’s dad had gotten a little more page time, I know he had a very small part to play, but it would have been interesting to see that relationship a little more.
There were a couple of things that took away from my enjoyment of Paper Covers Rock. The first was Alex’s voice; it didn't always sound like a sixteen-year-old boy’s voice. Occasionally, it sounded like a much older person talking about events that happened to them a long time ago. The second was Glenn, he was such a manipulative character and he expected that everyone would just go along with his plan. Alex calls him a “golden boy” because he seemed to be able to do nothing wrong (or at least not get caught despite the fact that he was often in the spotlight). I just never liked him as a character or connected with him.
Paper Covers Rock has a more literary feel than other recently published young adult books. It will appeal to certain readers and it’s not a book I would recommend to everyone. It talks about some weighty issues (death, drinking, and teacher-student relationships), so I would recommend it mostly to older teens.