Have you ever wanted an inside glimpse into the mind and psyche of a teenage boy? Have you ever been frustrated because you just can not figure out what exactly he is thinking? Have you ever wondered what life would be like in an all-boys’ boarding schools based in western North Carolina in the 1980s? If so, then Paper Covers Rock is the book for you.
Written, ironically enough, by a woman named Jenny Hubbard in 2011, Paper Covers Rock is the first-hand account of a boy whose best friend died under mysterious circumstances at the Birch School for Boys under the watch of his two closest friends.
The boy who died, Thomas Broughton, had been best friends with Alex Stromm, the narrator, and Glenn Everson before his untimely demise during a picnic near a river. There, something happened between the boys that would ultimately kill one and reveal secrets about the others. Secrets that, they felt, must be kept hidden at any cost.
Less than a month after Thomas’ death, a young new English teacher fresh from Princeton arrived at The Birch School, Haley Dovecott. While Alex develops a crush on his new teacher, Glenn becomes overly suspicious between the “relationship” that he sees developing there. He believed that Dovecott was overtly seeking the cause behind Thomas’ death by exploiting Alex’s infatuation. Glenn played on the “guy code” that is prominent in the school to force Alex to do what Glenn believed was necessary to protect their secret, ultimately leading to the ruination of Dovecott.
The style of writing Hubbard used was amazing, portraying exactly how I would imagine for a boy’s mind to operate. His thought statements were very succinct and to the point, matching how I often hear boys speak. She used slang and grammatical mistakes in exactly the way that a teenager does, using diction that is relatable and understandable to the teenage reader.
She included the occasional cuss word which, from my point of view, detracted from the story as a whole, while other students in the book club felt that cussing made the story and characters believable.
When we read Paper Covers Rock for book club, there were several initial reactions to the novel. Although it was generally well-liked by all, many (including myself) were left feeling unsatisfied with the conclusion. In my opinion, it was very abrupt, leaving behind a sense that the author simply grew tired of writing the story and so wrote the easiest conclusion possible.
She left the story with Alex simply lying on a rock contemplating about life with no mention of life after the “climax”. For others, the conclusion matched their opinion of who Alex Stromm was and that it fit his personality.
Altogether, for me, Paper Covers Rock had the potential to be utterly fantastic. However, a truly great novel must have a concise conclusion that wraps up every important plot in a nice neat bow, unless it is meant to leave the reader in suspense. The conclusion in this novel did not create suspense in the least. It was incredibly unsatisfactory; the conclusion left the reader with a sense of loss and dissatisfaction.
With this in mind, I would ultimately encourage that you read this book. Although the ending was weak, Paper Covers Rock was, as a whole, a well written and insightful novel that gave a temporary peek into the secret lives of teenage boys in the late 1980s.