Review: The Tragedy Paper
Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pub Date: January 8, 2013
Format: ARC received from publisher
Tim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. 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, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.
The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa’s story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving’s history.—via Goodreads
This book surprised me.
I didn’t really have any expectations for it when I picked it up, and you know, sometimes that’s the best way to approach a book. Since I didn’t have crazy high expectations, or really even know what the book was going to be about, I was pleasantly surprised to be immediately drawn into the story, which is a sort of two-prong mystery that unfolds for the audience.
I say “two-prong” because there are two timelines—one of them is being told to the main character, Duncan, who receives recordings of the story of Tim and Vanessa, two seniors from the previous year, narrated by Tim. What makes this interesting is that Duncan knows how the story ends, but the audience doesn’t. However, what Duncan doesn’t know is that the story Tim is telling will reveal nuances about his current life at Irving, inform his conceptions of the events of the past year, and , ultimately, that what he is listening to will impact his big senior project, the tragedy paper.
I love how the story unfolds—it’s a slow build that culminates in a story that has both the characters and the audience trying to determine exactly what a tragedy is, and who the tragic characters really are.
But! It’s not all tragic tragedy in this book—it’s set at a boarding school (and we all know how I can’t resist a good boarding school book) AND the boarding school is located not far from where I live, so there were several references both to the town I currently live in (YONKERS! As Tim points out, “It rhymes with bonkers.” That’s actually part of the reason I moved here. No lie.) and the towns surrounding me, which was a fun perk.
Overall, this book is an intriguing, mysterious story of loneliness, heartbreak, and how you can learn from others’ mistakes. But more than that, it’s about the stress of being a senior, trying to balance school with fun and not thinking too-too much about the looming future and what college will bring.
If you’re looking for a melancholy, slow burn of a story with a preppy, boarding school setting (with maps of the school as the endpapers!), then definitely check out The Tragedy Paper.