Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Saturday, May 5, 2012

Plot Summary:
Alex Stromm is a junior at Birch School, a boarding school for boys. What was supposed to be another year of endless classes and trying to fit in, Thomas, Alex's best friend, drowns in the lake near school. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be an accident, escalates into an interrogation for Alex and his friend, Glenn. In fact, when Glenn, Clay, and Alex were asked what had happened, they did something they never though they would do: they lied. Although Alex is struggling with the death of his best friend, there is a lot more to this incident, which he slowly reveals with each journal entry, which was given to him by his father. This journal should have been empty, but, unfortunately, what happened that day forces Alex to retreat to these pages. Under the pen name of  Is Male, since this journal is hidden behin a copy of Melville's Moby Dick, he retells the events that led up to this accident that leaps between the past and present. More importantly, it is through his words that we find out the truth behind the day Thomas died and why he, of all people, is able to move on when he could have stopped what had happened. Moreover, he is being buried to death by a mountain of lies, which brings upon unwanted consequences that will alter his perspective forever. 

Critical Evaluation:
What I thought was going to be an easy read turned out to be something completely different. In this story, Hubbard packs a lot of tough issues into this tiny story, which, for some, can be a lot at one time. One issue that is well dissected, tested, and proven is the definition of truth. For Alex, the truth is something that cannot be concealed, bended, or denied. The fact that he and his friends were not honest about what happened the day Thomas died conveys to readers how spineless they really are; Thomas wasn't the only one who was drunk that day and because of their lives, his family has to live with the shame with Thomas behavior and actions. Although none of these boys are responsible for the accident, the fear of getting kicked out of Birch has forced them to deny the truth about the that day. Another issue is Hubbard explores is relationships between friends. Thomas and Alex were best friends and, now that Thomas' dead, Alex and Glenn are the remaining witnesses' since, Clay, took the fall for the alcohol that was found in Thomas' system. What is really hard for readers to digest is the drastic measures that Glenn takes to try and discredit a teacher because he is afraid of getting kicked out of Birch. Unlike this deteriorating friendship, Alex and Miss Dovecott's relationship grows since Alex is pouring his heart and soul into his essays and poetry. Alex has an impeccable gift when it comes to writing and Miss Dovecott uses this knowledge to help Alex grieve, grow, and, unfortunately, uses to get to the bottom of Thomas' death. Granted, this relationship is seen as dangerous and inappropriate, Alex's world is turned upside down as he slowly peels away the farce that Birch has built around him. More importantly, knowing the secret that Thomas revealed to him, before he died, might be the key as to why Glenn was holding his hand over Thomas' mouth. Within two months, Alex struggles with his feelings for both Glenn and Miss Dovecott, but, in the end, he knows the true definition of truth and that it's about being honest with himself and realizing that he isn't perfect; he will make mistakes and the only to free himself from the burdens of the world is to admit that he, like every other person in this world, is without sin. This is a really hearty story and teens will have to take a moment or two to process. I will say that readers will not get the ending they are seeking, but we do get an image of a character who has been altered by his circumstances, which, for me, is beautifully tragic. Just like Captain Ahab, Alex will become a great man, but, hopefully, he will deal with the damage that has been done and move on rather than chase a creature that cannot be bound just like truth cannot be conquered.

Information about the Author:
Jenny Hubbard is a former teacher who spent seventeen years teaching high school and college English. In her website, "Jenny now practices what she preached:  the discipline of rewriting, which, in her humble opinion, is the key to a writer’s success." When she is not writing YA novels, she writes plays and acts at with various theaters in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is married and lives in a loft with her husband and dog, Oliver, in Asheville, North Carolina. Paper Covers Rock is her first YA titles and is working on her second novel. 

Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Mystery

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Paper Covers Rock:

Awards & Recognition:
  • 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor
  • 2012 William C. Morris Debut Award
  • Starred Review Publisher's Weekly (4/25/11)
  • Starred Review School Library Journal (6/1/2011)
  • Starred Review Horn Book Magazine (7/1/2011)
  • Starred Review Booklist (7/1/2011)

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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