I, like most of you out there, read a lot of YA. And, being the kind of literary grazer that I am, I tend to read lots of kinds of YA. I’ll pick up a fantasy, a romance, a mystery, a dystopia … anything, really, as long as it sounds interesting. I’ve been thrilled to see young adult books go from a rarely-thought-of niche market to the richest place for interesting and new writing in publishing today. One thing, though, that I think is still missing from this treasure trove is what is often referred to as “literary fiction”–that is, fiction that is Serious Business, not just in tone or subject, but in terms of the density of metaphor, lyricism, and shades of meaning in the text.
Hey, now! Before you say it, I’m not saying that young adult literature isn’t full of some of the best writing around, and I definitely know that the idea of literary fiction as a genre is pretty hotly debated (at least in some circles. Of super cool people who debate literary genres). I’m just saying that it definitely trends toward fantasy and sci-fi, and that the realistic fiction that exists tends to dominated by romance or comedy books.
So, with that in mind, I have to say that what makes Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard stand out is that it seems to have its feet firmly planted in the literary fiction category. It certainly is different than most of the things I’ve read in the past couple of years. The pages are heavy with metaphor, the story is peppered with poetry, the characters are complicated and intriguing, and the actual plot of the story matters far less than watching the interactions and growth of those characters.
Set in a very traditionally boarding school in the 1980s, Paper Covers Rock details Alex’s attempts to deal with guilt and uncertainty after a friend drowns in the river near the school. The text is filled with sentences like “there is a boarding school version of things, too, and it’s like the newspaper version, only more deliberate,” sentences that you find yourself turning over and over in your mind because of their simultaneous simplicity and depth.
Please don’t pick up Paper Covers Rock if you’re looking for a rollicking, action-packed romp through a dystopian world built from scratch. But don’t hesitate to reach for it if you’re looking for a beautifully written book that very much deserved to be nominated for YALSA’s Morris Award for debut works.
— Ariel Cummins, currently reading The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman