School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In October 1982, Alex, who is starting his junior year at an all-boys' boarding school, is plagued with guilt following the drowning of a friend that he and another student, Glenn, witnessed subsequent to the boys' drinking and jumping into a rocky river. The two fear expulsion and lie about what really happened, but they are not sure of what the new, young English teacher knows as she was at the scene after the drowning. Alex copes by spending his days in the library reading Moby-Dick and writing in a journal. He likes the extra attention he gets from Miss Dovecott because of his gift for writing and because he is in love with her; however, Glenn thinks that she senses their guilt and that she is trying to prove that they are lying about the situation. The boys make a plan to jeopardize Miss Dovecott's reputation, and Alex must choose between his own fate and hers. The story builds to a climax that will have readers on edge. It could be read alongside many of the classics that deal with friendship and loyalty, as well as deceit. The structure of the book, with its section headings and quotes, will help to focus the narration for readers as it goes back and forth in time, and the haunting tone of the story line will intrigue them. Those who are looking for something to ponder will enjoy this compelling read.—Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI
Following in the tradition of John Knowles's A Separate Peace, this eloquent first novel set in 1982 at an all-male boarding school explores circumstances surrounding the accidental death of a student. Seventeen-year-old Thomas's obituary states that he died "as the result of a swimming accident," but his classmate Alex knows that's not the whole story. He attempts to explain what really happened to Thomas in the pages of his secret journal, yet the more he writes the more complicated the truth becomes. Hubbard leads readers down a twisting path to extract bits of truth from journal entries layered with emotion and warped by deception. A day of reckoning forces Alex to choose between his encouraging English teacher, with whom he is desperately infatuated, and the school's golden boy, Glen. Hubbard has a superb handle on her boarding school setting, as Alex, a gifted writer who's influenced by Melville and the poetry they study, turns his eye on the inextricably entwined forces of honor, loyalty, masculinity, and sexuality that dominate the Birch School, as well as his guilt and search for identity. A powerful, ambitious debut. Ages 14–up. (June)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, April 25, 2011:
"Hubbard has a superb handle on her boarding school setting...A powerful, ambitious debut."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
"The story builds to a climax that will have readers on edge. It could be read alongside many of the classics that deal with friendship and loyalty, as well as deceit...Those who are looking for something to ponder will enjoy this compelling read."
Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2011:
"Hubbard’s characters are confounding and intriguing...The traditional, buttoned-up boarding school setting makes the perfect backdrop to this tense dictation of secrets, lies, manipulation, and the ambiguity of honor."
Starred Review, Booklist, July 1, 2011:
"Both plotting and characters are thoroughly crafted in this stellar first novel. The poetry that Hubbard produces from Alex’s pen is brilliant, and the prose throughout is elegant in its simplicity. Reminiscent of John Knowles’ classic coming-of-age story, A Separate Peace (1959), this novel introduces Hubbard as a bright light to watch on the YA literary scene."
It may take a village to raise a child, but a boys' boarding school is a poor substitute, with its 24/7 peer culture and absentee parents "who pay shitloads of money to send their sons away."
And when 17-year-old Thomas Edward Broughton, Jr. dies after diving off a rock in a spot on the river off limits to students, his friend Alex Stromm is left trying to make sense of the tragedy. He writes in the journal his father had given him two years before, an ambitious attempt at "the Not-So Great American Novel," where he hopes that "through careful arrangements of words, order could be made from chaos." His journal contains observations, rough drafts of letters, poems and homework essays. Readers may well wonder at Alex's capacity to write this level of introspective prose, but the journal is a good vehicle for slowly revealing the layers of guilt, truth and deception in this tightly knit community. Hubbard's fine debut skillfully portrays boarding-school life and a young man's will to use words to keep himself afloat in that world.
Readers will eagerly anticipate her next work, and in the meantime they may try such similar, classic fare as A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Read an Excerpt
Call me Is Male.
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.