The Tragedy PaperFeatured
It follows the story of 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 secrets.
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.
In general, I would actually say that The Tragedy Paper is very derivative of other works of fiction, sometimes to the point of blatant copy-catting. For instance, the first and last lines of The Outsiders are very iconic, and Elizabeth LaBan lifted them wholesale, and the end result was that I closed the book with a bad taste in my mouth, since I consider what she did to be one step away from plagiarism. I hope that, should this author continue to write books, she will be less obvious in where she gets her ideas and inspiration from, as it was very off-putting for me.
Okay, so I don’t feel like this book is very original, and I was a bit annoyed. I do, however, think The Tragedy Paper is a good book. It was simple and quick to read, and I thought the characters were all likable and wanted to root for them. I’ve also always been a fan of stories about rich white kids at boarding school doing preppy things—I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but there you have it.
As with Thirteen Reasons Why, LaBan’s narrative follows two timelines. There is the book’s narrator, in this case Duncan, and then there’s another character who tells a story via voice recording, in this case Tim, an albino who graduated from the Irving School the previous year. There is obviously a connection between Duncan’s life and Tim’s, but it isn’t revealed until the very end.
This story wasn’t particularly complex, and The Tragedy Paper is high on character interaction and low on pretty much everything else. That sort of novel really tends to work for me, so I found the entire reading experience to be breezy and engaging. I have seen some reviewer’s complain that this is boring, so potential readers should keep that in mind. I wouldn’t say, however, that this was a particularly heavy or ultra-serious read. Yes, important issues were raised, but not in a way that was dark or depressing.
I found The Tragedy Paper to be a worthwhile debut novel from an author who I think shows a lot of promise. Though I’ve read books like this before many times, and was able to see how LaBan patched together others’ ideas to create this book, I still enjoyed the text altogether.
?The suspense in this book kept me going and had me on the edge of my seat. I had to know what happened. Throughout the book you get hints that something terrible happened the previous year and by those points you just can't put the book down simply because you have to know. When I got to the point where everything was revealed however, I didn't want to read it because I knew the book would soon end and I really didn't want that to happen.
Like Duncan I found myself hooked, needing to know exactly how things would play out. From the beginning I knew it wouldn't be good but I really was expecting the worst. When it came to that point I was expecting this whole disaster that Duncan is somehow the cause of since he blames himself throughout the whole book but in the end it shows us that we all make choices and we have to live with them, perhaps for the rest of our lives.
I liked almost every character in this book. That rarely happens. I think Mr. Simon was my favorite. Even though he's just the teacher who assigns the Tragedy Paper I felt that he played a bigger role in this story than any of the characters even realized. Then there was Tim, he was the outcast. He was intelligent and kind. Vanessa I wasn't really too pleased with. What was up with how she acted nice toward Tim one minute and then the next it was like she couldn't bother to be seen with him? She was almost as bad as her boyfriend Patrick who I did not like at all. He was self-centered, egotistical and just a complete jerk. Duncan had to be my second favorite character out of all of them. He was so torn up about what had happened the previous year that he felt like he owed it to Tim just to listen to his story, this went so far that it began to completely take over his life. All in all the characters all had surprising depth.
This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. As soon as I finished I wanted to go back to page one and re-read the book all over again. This book shows us that tragedies don't always have to have a tragic ending. They don't have to be bleak and foreboding, they can be full of hope as well.
"A tragedy is a play or literary work in which the main character - that would be the tragic hero - suffers greatly and is brought to ruin. Usually this suffering and ruin come about because of the main character's own flaw or weakness and his or her inability to deal with the lot he or she has been given."
Duncan is a typical, marginal student: never part of the popular crowd, shy around girls. His problems revolve about correcting embarrassing, tragic mistakes he made last year and hooking up with the girl he likes. I didn't enjoy reading about Duncan very much, I thought he was too dramatic and exaggerating things. His problems looked so trivial, especially compared to Tim.
Tim was to me a real star of The Tragedy Paper. I never read any book before where main (or side) characters is albino and I was shocked to read about all the problems they have blending into normal life. Of course, I was aware about people staring and that they are probably avoided or teased a lot, but I didn't know about health issues albino's have. Like, for example, that they have eyes sensitive to light and have to wear sunglasses or they can go blind.
Chapter alternate between Duncan and Tim and I could not get to the next chapter about Tim fast enough... Although this book is not the genre I usually read, it was a real page-turner to me and I devoured it in a day. Still, I was annoyed a lot because I thought that Tim's and Duncan's actions and choices were stupid most of the time and that they sacrificed too much to get approval from the popular crowd. This is one of the reasons why I don't read ya contemporary books, I usually can't relate to characters or their decisions.
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan was intense, beautifully written, emotional, tragic story about growing up. Although it was not my cup of tea, I would recommend buying this to young adults (male and female) to show them that being accepted by popular crowd is not the most important thing in the world.
I recommend this book to fans of: young adult contemporary novels with school setting and male main characters. Be warned, the romance/love story although exists, is not main focus of this book.