Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
Published: June 14, 2011
Rating: 3/5 Stars
"At the beginning of his junior year at a boys' boarding school, 16-year-old Alex is devastated when he fails to save a drowning friend. When questioned, Alex and his friend Glenn, who was also at the river, begin weaving their web of lies. Plagued by guilt, Alex takes refuge in the library, telling his tale in a journal he hides behind Moby-Dick. Caught in the web with Alex and Glenn is their English teacher, Miss Dovecott, fresh out of Princeton, who suspects there's more to what happened at the river when she perceives guilt in Alex's writing for class. She also sees poetic talent in Alex, which she encourages. As Alex responds to her attention, he discovers his true voice, one that goes against the boarding school bravado that Glenn embraces. When Glenn becomes convinced that Miss Dovecott is out to get them, Alex must choose between them."~Goodreads
I love a good boarding school story. All of that teen angst and no parents in sight. It's a great recipe for drama and intrigue. For some reason stories about all boys schools seem to hold a special place in my heart. It's probably because I grew up loving A Separate Peace and The Dead Poets Society, "Oh captain, my captain" and all that. These stories really seem to tug at my heart strings. That's probably why I went into this story expecting so much. It doesn't hurt that Paper Covers Rock was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award. So with my expectations towering, I dove right in (pun intended). Unfortunately, this particular boarding school story was a little stale for me.
Let's start off on a positive note. The style of the book was really intriguing. It is told in journal form through entries, essays, poems and letters. I always have loved this type of writing style. It allows you to get inside the protagonists head in a way that simple narrative cannot. It also usually helps to make the pacing of the story work. However, with this particular book, the pacing was sometimes off and even at only 192 pages this book took awhile for me to get through. That being said, the journal style was effective in helping me to understand and connect with the main character, Alex. Even though I felt I knew Alex, it was hard at times for me to sympathize with him. He allows others to control so much of what he does and how he thinks and allows himself to be bullied by his (to me totally dull, nothing to write home about) best friend, Glenn. Together the boys get one student expelled and attempt to have a teacher dismissed all to save their own butts. I'm not sure why I should feel much sympathy for such a door mat.
My other big problem with this book is that the story line is so similar to A Separate Peace. There are plenty of differences of course but the characters seem like less likable knock-offs of Phineas and Gene and the main conflict (a student being injured/killed) after jumping into a river was just too on the nose for me. Really, I probably would have had a much different view of the book if this weren't the case since I spent most of the time comparing the two stories in my mind. Of course the plot lines were different in many ways and I am not at all insinuating that anything underhanded is going on here, but I just felt like I had read this story before and liked it better the first time.
When all is said and done I can't really say that I disliked Paper Covers Rock. It was a solid story told in an interesting way, but it fell short. I would have like to have seen a more original story-line and more likable characters. The charm of Dead Poets Society and the bite of A Separate Peace were missing for me. In the end, it's a story that is interesting but not enduring. I think this book would be a good introduction if you haven't read a lot of books involving boarding schools. It may really intrigue some of you, I think for me it was just a little late to the party.