Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: Paper Covers Rock

I recently read Noah Lukeman's e-book (realizing now,  I never reviewed it), How to Write a Great Query, in preparation for querying an agent who is specifically interested in receiving YA novels set in the 1980's. I am feeling like this might be a good fit for one of my YA novels since it is set in 1980. Lukeman suggests that it is wise to research what other novels are out there which are similar to the novel you are attempting to pitch and then include a sentence in your query which states the comparison. If you ask me, this is tricky ground because if an inexperienced writer compares themselves to an established writer, it could appear arrogant or rather reaching. But, I decided to follow Lukeman's suggestion and googled YA novels set in the 80's. I jotted down a list of about 20 books set in either the 80's or 90s, then checked their Amazon listings to see if they were at all similar in scope to my novel. The one which seemed to be most similar was this book, Paper Covers Rock, because it is written in first person from a male protagonist telling of a lie which must be covered up. And there is where the similarities end.

My novel is more linear in narration and my main character holds higher morals, which intensifies the internal conflict over his lie. While I will admit my novel has a few risque comments (it is the only novel I've written which isn't directed at Christian young people and the only manuscript which might appeal to a secular marketplace), for the most part it is a far more wholesome novel than Paper Covers Rock. This novel, written by Jenny Hubbard, is chock full of male adolescent fantasies and sexual commentary. I can see how it might appeal to teen boys, who no doubt think such thoughts, but is it really necessary to present it so blatantly in a novel for young adults? Are young adults really so shallow that this sexual appeal needs to be hammered so intensely? Perhaps I'm too puritanical. I just tired of all the description of what the young man wanted to do to his attractive, young English teacher.

Indeed, the fixation on the English teacher almost overshadowed the moral dilemma about the lie. In the grand scheme of things, the boy's lie didn't really impact his life much except for the fear that its revelation might get him thrown out of the boarding school he is attending. The book was far more focused on the boy's interactions with this nurturing English teacher. But let me back up and provide the teaser from the inside cover:

"Sixteen-year-old Alex has just begun his junior year at a boys' boarding school when he fails to save a friend from drowning in a river on campus. Fearing the consequences if they reveal the whole truth about what happened, Alex and his friend Glenn, who also witnessed the accident, decide to lie. Plagued by guilt, Alex takes refuge in the library, telling his tale in a journal he hides behind a copy of Moby Dick."

The novel does not simply provide the transcript of Alex's journal. Rather, it jumps around with information (sometimes third person, sometimes first person) about the event and the following days. The English teacher recognizes Alex's gift for writing and begins to draw him out, but Glenn is convinced that the teacher knows more about what happened than she is letting on. Thus, Glenn embarks upon a plan to flush out the teacher. Alex is more conflicted about his internal feelings for the teacher than he really is about the lie he has told.

I was thoroughly disappointed with the ending (CAUTION: spoilers ahead). The two boys successfully trap the teacher in a compromising situation and get her thrown out of the school. Amazingly she never reveals what she saw and the lie is maintained, thus allowing both of them to remain at their boarding school (Alex doesn't even appear to want to be there, so why he is so concerned about being kicked out is a mystery).

I don't think I want to compare my novel to this novel, even if the agent I am querying is familiar with this novel set in the 80s. Despite common ground (the male perspective, the lie, and the fatal consequences associated with the lie), my novel seems to be Scholastic fare or at least far more tame and wholesome. My character repents of his lie and mans up to the consequences. Thus, I'm not really thrilled to have read this novel, even for simple research purposes.

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