I am still trying to learn and remember all the different types of literary and book awards that are out there, and can lead us to fantastic reading experiences. This was my first time coming across the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, an annual award given to a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. This award was first given in 2009 by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The award is named after an innovator of the publishing world, who was a strong advocate of promoting literature for children and teens. Paper Covers Rock is one of five 2012 finalists, and the 2012 winner is Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (which also won the 2012 Michael L. Printz Award).
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.
I do not usually enjoy reading books that deal with depressing topics such as drinking fatalities, blackmail, and betrayal despite their strong messages for readers. However, I found the author’s writing abilities captivating. She was able to weave Alex’s guilt ridden confession into a poetic yet fast paced unravelling of secrets and life altering moments. Author Jenny Hubbard’s gift for writing poetry and language comes out not only in the poems that Alex writes for his English teacher, Miss. Dovecott, but throughout the entire book. Written in diary form the reader is able to fully grasp the complex emotions and thoughts that the main character is dealing with from his anguish over the death of his friend to the sexual desire yet respect he has for Miss. Dovecott.
I was also fascinated by the private all boys boarding school culture that the author captures through the story. All be it is quite a negative one and set in the 1980s, she brings forth the pressures these boys faced and may still face in fitting in, in living up to the expectations of their family legacies, of the sexism and objectification towards females, and of the connotations with being gay. However, what also shines through is their dedication to higher education, which shines through in Miss. Dovecott’s English class as they study American literature and poetry and she helps to mentor the gift for poetry she sees in Alex as well as his soul.
She calls me a natural-born poet. As she says all of these things that no one has ever said to me before, she follows my eyes with hers, which are dark and deep like pockets.
“You are on my side,” she says.
“What side is that?” I ask.
“The winning side,” she says, and smiles. “The team of artists.”
“Who are we playing?”
“The barbarians,” she says. “We are always playing them.” (Hubbard, p. 67)
I give it 4 out of 5.
p.s. I think that this book pairs well with the movies Dead Poets Society and The Emperor’s Club.