From Prep School to Poetry: 6 Questions for Jenny Hubbard, Author of Paper Covers Rock
Editor's Note: It's hard to introduce a book like Paper Covers Rock or a writer like Jenny Hubbard. As someone who works with a lot of books, and reads many books, and talks about many books, my heart leaps when I'm presented with a title that really takes me back and reminds me of how I fell in love with books in the first place, with writing, with words, with stories. Paper Covers Rock addresses serious issues of loyalty and truth when a stunt goes wrong at a boys' boarding school. It reminds me of novels like A Separate Peace and maybe even The Catcher in the Rye. This is a beautiful book, an important book, for young adults, and just about everybody else. Here, Jenny Hubbard chats about the inspiration for this novel, the codes of prep school, and the books that have touched her life.
Everyday eBook: What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?
Jenny Hubbard: The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls and live by the banks of Plum Creek. I read those books eight times through -- as soon as I'd finish, I'd start over again. The illustrations by Garth Williams remain as vivid to me today as any memory from my childhood does.
EE: What inspired you to write prep school as a setting?
JH: I taught for ten years at an all-boys boarding school, and I wouldn't trade that experience for a hatbox full of hundreds. As I used to tell my students there, we each have a story to tell about this place. Boarding schools are their own microcosms, with their own codes and rules and inside jokes and senses of humor. Fascinating. Endlessly fascinating, at least to me.
EE: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
JH: I loved writing Alex's poems. When I taught at the boys' school, I had my students compose a poem each week. The discoveries they made in the process, the heartfelt and authentic truths they were able to articulate on the page knocked the breath out of me. Alex's poems were a way for me to honor the commitment to honest language that these boys chose to make.
EE: Which character speaks the loudest to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
JH: I think Miss Dovecott is the character who should be heard, but, unfortunately for Alex, he chooses to listen to Glenn instead. Some readers have criticized the novel for being set in 1982, but, for me at least, the undercurrent of male chauvinism and white-man privilege wouldn't have buzzed nearly as loudly through the pages of that same story set today. In the early '80s, some elite colleges and universities had barely gone co-ed, and so for an intelligent young woman like Miss Dovecott to find herself suddenly adrift on a sea of prejudice and tradition — well, she is going to have to shout to be heard, isn't she? And she isn't a shouter. So the one voice that speaks the truth gets drowned.
EE: Are you working on a second book?
JH: Yes. It's told from the point of view of three teenage girls who are witness to a high-school shooting. It's a novel about aftermath -- survival of the aftermath -- rather than the sensationalism of the event itself.
EE: What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
JH: Real-life fiction, a la Judy Blume. For me and many of my friends, Judy Blume was a lifesaver.
This post originally ran on Random Acts of Reading.
When my dad gave me this journal two years ago and said "Fill it with your impressions," I imagine he had a more idyllic portrait of boarding school life in mind. I imagine he pictured a lot of bright things, sending his only child to an institution whose official motto is Ad Lux. But these pages have remained blank. I have not had much to say until now--when now is everything.
If you are reading this, you have happened upon it by accident. Call me Is Male.
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 the nature of guilt to sideline the truth.
Welcome to the sidelines, Dear Reader.
If you get bored with my literary efforts, with the plot or characters, if you find that good ol' Is Male is putting you to sleep, read a real novel, a Great American one. Read Moby-Dick. Read to your heart's content. Though if you are a reader, the heart is never content.
Newspapers may tell you the plot, but they never tell you the real story. And they never, ever tell you what started the whole thing to begin with. But when the end is death, maybe what comes before doesn't matter. What happens on September 30 is still going to happen.
So, what happens?
1. The bell rings at exactly 11:45. I have been waiting for this bell. I own a watch just so I can set it to Birch School time, just so I can know exactly when this Saturday bell, the one that dismisses us from six days of classes in a row, will ring. The Birch School, like all boys' boarding schools, is timeless; time drags on forever here, which makes the bell mean something.
2. I leave the classroom for the dining hall and eat lunch. (Not worth elaborating on--sorry boys'-school food.)
3. I go back to my room to change clothes. (We all wear blazers and ties to class.) My room feels depressing at this time of day, when I am normally in class during the week. The carpet looks like it hasn't been changed in twenty years because it probably hasn't, and in the corner near my closet, some other guy who had this room before left cigarette burns that I have never noticed until this moment. My roommate, Clay, hasn't made his bed (typical), and a half-eaten bag of Doritos sags near his pillow.
4. I start down the hill to the river by myself at approximately 12:30, but my friend Thomas catches up with me. We arrive at the designated meeting spot at approximately 12:50. No sign yet of Glenn and Clay, so Thomas asks me a question: "Do you remember what it is that makes the sky blue?" Because on this day, the sky is bluer than it has ever been.
"I think it has something to do with the spectrum of light and the nitrogen in the atmosphere absorbing all of the other colors except blue," I say.
"It's weird to think about living under a green sky, or a red one."
Thomas says, "Blue is the right color for it, that's for sure."
I say, "I always thought it was weird to think about how you're under the same exact sky as some kid in China who has no idea that you exist, and you have no idea that he exists, only that there has got to be at least one kid in China looking at the sky right now."
"Isn't it night over there, though?"
"Yeah, but there still has to be some Chinese kid looking at it."
"Maybe he's counting stars," says Thomas. "Did you used to do that?"
Thomas says, "I wonder why we don't do that anymore."
This is our last real conversation, verbatim. Every conversation you will find in this book I am writing is verbatim. There may be a comma where the speaker intended for there to be a semicolon, but other than that, my journal/Not-So-Great American Novel is entirely accurate. Even though I haven't slept for two nights in a row, what you see scrawled throughout this journal that my dad gave me is real. I am big on verbatim because I am big on truth. Truth: as important and essential as rain.
Death Notice, Raleigh News & Observer,
October 2, 1982
(copied verbatim, punctuation and all, from the newspaper in the library)
Thomas Edward Broughton, Jr., 17, of Raleigh, died September 30 as the result of a swimming accident in Buncombe County, NC. Thomas, a junior at the Birch School, was a member of the varsity football and track teams and a good friend to all who knew him there. He was born September 21, 1965, in Raleigh, where he was a member of Christ Episcopal Church. He spent the summer volunteering at the Boys Club, an organization for underprivileged youth, while working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. Thomas is survived by his loving parents, Thomas Edward Broughton, Sr., and Grace Banes Broughton, and by his younger brother, Trenton Banes Broughton, all of Raleigh; by his grandmother Lucy Elvington Broughton, also of Raleigh; by his grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks Folsom Banes of Oxford, Mississippi; and by various aunts and uncles and cousins in Raleigh and elsewhere. A service in celebration of Thomas's life will be held at Christ Episcopal on Friday, October 6, at 11:00 a.m., to be followed by a private burial. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Thomas's memory to the Boys Club of Raleigh, P.O. Box 957, Raleigh, NC, 27607.
From the Hardcover edition.