Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf BFYR
Page Count: 312
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Tim Macbeth, a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants—he just hopes to get through his senior year unnoticed. Yet, despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “It” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.
Jumping between viewpoints of the love-struck Tim and Duncan, a current senior about to uncover the truth of Tim and Vanessa, The Tragedy Paper is a compelling tale of forbidden love and the lengths people will go to keep their love.
The Tragedy Paper follows two characters. We first meet Duncan, a student starting his first day at The Irving, a boarding school in upstate New York. Duncan is hesitant to come back, after what happened last year, which he only vaguely alludes to and doesn’t explain. He’s even more disheartened when he realizes that he is stuck with the worst dorm room, a small space with hardly a window. It’s in the room that he finds a collection of CDs that Tim, the senior who lived in his room last year, left specifically for him. Duncan sits and listens to the CDs and learns that Tim has recorded his story about what led to the big thing that happened last year. Duncan can’t believe it and doesn’t want to listen anymore, but he can’t stop listening to Tim’s story.
What struck me right away when reading Elizabeth Laban’s The Tragedy Paper was that it’s similar to stories I’ve read before, yet I still didn’t find this kind of narrative tiring. If anything, I was eager to find out what this impending and slightly scary revelation the story is leading up to. The book switches between Duncan and Tim, although the story is mostly focused on Tim, who I should mention is albino. Clearly, you can guess Tim’s story is something about fitting in and the lengths someone would go to seem “normal” to impress a girl. In that regard, it’s nothing new, but we do get to meet an interesting and unique character in Tim. He’s the one that I most connected with since his story is told in the first person. It was harder to connect with Duncan because I didn’t know what his connection to Tim’s tragedy was. Was it bad? Was it good? All we know is that Duncan feels a tremendous guilt over it, leaving the reader unsure how to feel about him.
The story has a perfect backdrop, a tragedy-themed essay that every senior has the entire school year to write and complete for their English class. It’s looming on every senior’s minds. It’s worked into their story effortlessly and adds more significance to the story at hand. In addition, Laban is a talented writer. She knows how to draw the reader in and writes her characters with authenticity.
My biggest issue with the novel is some of its predictability. With using common tragedy tropes, it was easy to expect what would happen to Tim. 1. You obviously know it’s tragic. And 2. Tim leaves big clues how what will cause it to happen. That, in turn, made me feel a tad underwhelmed by the revelation. However, I wasn’t able to predict how exactly it played out and every character’s role in the event. So, there is some surprise in the climax.
The best thing about The Tragedy Paper is the take-away. It delivers a good and simple message: Believe in yourself. Yeah, you may have heard that so many times. Trust me; I have as well. But it is nice to be non-annoyingly and genuinely reminded of that, and The Tragedy Paper finds a profound and engrossing (and well, also tragic) way to reinforce that message into readers.