LaBan's The Tragedy Paper is contemplative and academic, sure to appeal to readers looking for a meatier, slower-paced read. It's a strange sort of book, though one that certainly has some good company. Though I didn't exactly fly through The Tragedy Paper or become caught up in the characters, I really enjoyed reading it, curious to find out what had happened during the previous year at the Irving School.
There's a whole subset of young adult fiction about boarding schools. Something about them calls to the imagination, I guess: the freedom or how elite they seem, perhaps. The Irving School has an illustrious history, complex traditions, and the requisite quirky professor needed to help guide the main character to enlightenment in the style of Dead Poets' Society. The Irving School holds more appeal for me than many of the boarding school settings I've read (that don't have magic), from the archway to the custom of departing seniors leaving treasure behind for the student next to receive their dorm room.
Duncan, ostensibly the main character of the piece, really only serves as a frame story, which is rather daring. The treasure left for Duncan is a stack of CDs, upon which Tim Macbeth has recorded the story of his tragic semester at Irving School. We really actually learn very little about Duncan throughout The Tragedy Paper, since he spends most of his time either listening to Tim's story or thinking about Tim's story. While ordinarily, I might find this framing device frustrating and unnecessary, I like it here because the way that Duncan becomes caught up in Tim's tale the same way I become entangled in a wonderful novel. I thought it was a wonderful sort of metaphor for the process of reading, becoming caught up in the journey of someone else and growing as a result of it, though you have actually been a passive observer.
Tim Macbeth, like all tragic heroes, suffers from a fatal flaw: being too uncomfortable with himself as a result of his albinism. All his life, Tim has been stared at, feared, or pitied because he was born without the pigmentation most people have. He has never been particularly close to anyone outside of his family and resists connection with anyone new, sure that they will only ever see him as an albino, not as a deeper person. Of course, the person most obsessed with his albinism is Tim himself.
What Left Me Wanting More:
From the beginning, it's clear that something awful happened during Tim's one semester (the second semester of his senior year) at Irving School. There's a girl, of course, beautiful and perfect and maybe even interested in him, but, unfortunately, she also has a boyfriend, the most popular guy in school. There were some echoes of Looking for Alaska in this, I think. The mystery of the harrowing event at the end of the year kept me rapt, but was a bit of a letdown when I finally got there, mostly because of the allusion to a literary work I didn't much care for in the first place.
The Final Verdict:
The Tragedy Paper will appear to a certain niche of reader, those who prefer high concept to action. At no point did I feel bored and LaBan sustained my curiosity about the mystery all the way through. LaBan's debut is impressive, and I will likely be reading more of her work in the future.