The Plot: Sixteen year old Alex’s journal covers a few short months, the time following the accidental drowning of his friend Thomas. What happened to Thomas? What caused the accident? Does anyone suspect that the story Alex, Glenn and Clay tell may be leaving things out? One person may suspect, the young, pretty English teacher Miss Dovecott. What will Thomas do to protect his secrets?
The Good: Paper Covers Rock takes place at a private boys boarding school in a remote area of North Carolina in the 1980s. Alex’s world is narrow and insular because of all these things; the physical isolation of the school, the isolated community of all boys and men with a handful of women, like young Miss Dovecott, with the outside world accessed only by mail or public telephones.
Alex is smart; and he writes with a certain self awareness of himself and the story he tells, complete with allusions to Herman Melville and Moby Dick: “My apologies to Herman Melville, from whom I may have to steal a few words to tell the story that is about to be told, that is in the middle of being told, that will never stop being told. Such is the nature of guilt; such is the nature of truth. But it is also the nature of guilt to sideline the truth.” Truthfully, yes, I believed Alex to be the type of boy to not just write like this but to think that he is impressing the reader with it. I agree with Someday My Printz Will Come that Alex’s language make him and his grief suspect; but, for me, that meant that I doubted much of what he said, despite insisting that “I am big on verbatim because I am big on truth. Truth: as important and essential as rain.”
Alex has a secret about the day Thomas died; he, along with the others, were drinking. It’s a violation of the honor code and if it’s found out, he’ll be expelled. It appears, because it is what Alex tells us, that Alex and Glenn are driven by this secret in what they later do and don’t do. This is what they think Miss Dovecott knows. Alex tells the reader how and when he fell in love with his teacher; but before that he observes her interactions with students: “it is the thing that draws me out of myself, the thing that calms me down: the realization that a teacher could be more scared than the students — and scared of the students.”
Secrets, lies, half truths, manipulations: that is the story behind Paper Covers Rock, the story leading up to the death of Thomas and what happens after. What type of story that is depends on whether or not you believe Alex. Whatever you believe about him, there is also much about sex and power; while Miss Dovecott is a teacher, a person to be respected, she is female and young and pretty and the students find ways to make her uncomfortable. As for each other, “there was no worse label at an all-boys school than “gay.” What would someone do to avoid that?