Most people think that I’m super smart because I’m a librarian. Completely untrue. I’m really not that smart, and in reading Paper Covers Rock, I realized that I know nothing about classic literature. Nothing. Zip. The amount in my bank account. Nichts.
Paper Covers Rock is written in diary form, and it is the diary of Alex Stromm, a student at a boarding school in North Carolina. One afternoon in the fall, he witnesses one of his best friends die in a terrible swimming accident. In an attempt to deal come to terms with his grief and feelings of guilt, Alex starts keeping a journal; one that is partly reflective in nature and one that tells the story of what happened the day Thomas died. What keeps the book moving is the fact that Alex isn’t exactly sure what happened that day at the rock – he knows that he, Thomas and their friend Glenn had been drinking, and Thomas had been drinking the most of all of them. He knows that they decided to jump from the rock into the river, and that he and Thomas played Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who would jump first. And he knows that when he surfaces from his dive, Thomas is unconscious, and shortly thereafter, he’s dead. The school has a very strict no alcohol policy, so Glenn and Alex must cover up some of their story in order to stay in school, and Alex quickly begins to suspect that Glenn is trying to cover up more than just the incident on the rock.
So what does all of this have to do with classic literature? Alex has a bit of a crush on one of his teachers, Miss Dovecott, and in trying to help Alex deal with his loss, she recommends that he read different classics: Moby Dick, the Old Man and the Sea, etc., and he weaves lots of literary references into his diary. For example, he refers to himself as Is-Male (I got that one), and he asks Her-Mann lots of questions (got that one too), and apparently the title to each chapter is a quote from Moby Dick (missed that one). While I was reading I could tell when the narrator was referencing something, but I rarely had the background knowledge to make the connection.
Regardless of being able to make connections, Hubbard did an amazing job of creating a realistic voice in Alex Stromm. I don’t know for sure, because, well, I’m not and have never been a teenaged boy, but Alex’s guilt and uncertainty are absolutely real and palpable. And the ending is absolutely true to life.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for middle school or reluctant readers because of all the literary references (I’d call them obscure, but they probably aren’t). However, I think that just about any high school student can relate to Alex because everyone, at some point, has to choose between seeing the truth even though it’s painful and difficult, or continue to turn a blind eye because it’s easier. And everyone, at some point in their lives, goes through an event that will change their existence permanently.