Book Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Category: Children’s Fiction, Teens & YA, Contemporary
Main Characters: Duncan, Tim, Vanessa, Daisy, Patrick
PUBLISHING DATE: January 8, 2013
Source: Review copy ebook from NetGalley. No remuneration was given for this review — it is my honest opinion about the piece.
Rating: 4 FULL MOONS!
“A beguiling and beautifully written tale of first love and heartbreak, Elizabeth LaBan’s debut is a story to treasure.”—Jennifer Weiner, #1 New York Times bestselling author
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ELIZABETH LABAN worked at NBC News, taught at a community college, and has written for several magazines and newspapers. The Tragedy Paper is her first young adult novel. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.
First, I have to confess that I don’t read a lot of YA literature. In fact, I have a tendency to avoid it. I’ve read some of the bigger, most popular series, and found something lacking in them for me. That lack may very well be part of being my age: the melodrama of youth has long since lost its luster for me, and I have a hard time riding the emotional highs and lows of being a pre-teen, teen, or young adult. Reading stories written to play on those emotions often strikes me as silly, shallow, or otherwise just not to my taste. So, unless there’s a rave from a reviewer or reviewers I trust, or the story comes from someone I know, I just avoid the entire genre. It’s not really written for me anyway! Someone weary of youthful angst should not be reading or reviewing a book that stands entirely on the trials that come from growing up.
Now, THAT being said, while THE TRAGEDY PAPER is certainly full of coming-of-age angst and high emotion, the crests and valleys of young love (especially the unrequited kind), and the constant sensation of loneliness, discomfort, and uncertainty that accompanies the teenage years, the struggle to fit in, to understand oneself and our place in the world — it is a great deal more profound and deep than that.
The central question of the piece is “What is a tragedy?” And goes about attempting to answer that question by following the intertwined tales of an albino named Tim, his crush Vanessa, and her jerk jock boyfriend Patrick (from the school year previous to the events in the book) with Duncan and his girlfriend, Daisy, here in the present. There’s a great tragic mystery that ties Tim and Duncan together that slowly plays out over the course of the story until it climaxes toward the end… and demonstrates its aftermath in the final chapters.
Thematically, this book is really heavy. Underneath the typical high school story with a mystery as its core, it is an examination of topics I doubt a lot of kids the age of the characters in the book really consider. To paraphrase the story itself, how does order>chaos>order play itself out in events such as this? Which decisions the characters make have “magnitude” in the larger scheme of the universe? What is a character’s “tragic flaw,” how does it affect their actions, and does such a thing apply in real life? What is a “catharsis?” These are only some of the questions posed to the main characters, and how they answer them is ultimately the point of the book.
I found the conclusion to the mystery itself a bit anti-climactic, and yet again, profound. A single incident that changes so many lives can spring from such a long string of small decisions that it is difficult to determine where a different one at any point could have made a difference. It’s difficult to describe how this unfolds in the story without reading it — I recommend you do. From tweens to adults, I think there’s something to be learned at almost any age. At the very least, that the way we treat other people can have an important affect on them and the world and people around them.
I was surprisingly pleased and challenged by THE TRAGEDY PAPER. While I don’t think it necessarily needed to be as long as it was — it tends to wander, but that could also be considered authentic storytelling considering the format by which Tim is telling his tale to Duncan — it is compelling enough that wandering through the labyrinth is worth it in the end. The setting of the private school and the changes of the seasons also figure symbolically as well as adding atmosphere. The more I talk about the story, the more I want to go back and read it again with 20/20 hindsight (another theme in the book). I bet the entire thing will read differently — and that’s a special story, considering it is so far outside my usual taste!
OOOO – Four Full Moons: I REALLY liked this. Well worth reading, and possibly re-reading!
OOO – Three Full Moons: Good! Worth a read.
OO – Two Full Moons: Not really to my taste, but not terrible.
O – One Full Moon: Has serious flaws that make it difficult to read and review fairly.
I’ll also be using half-moons as necessary. I should make it clear that I do review books on a number of levels, emotional and structural being the major ones. I might read a book with serious grammar and spelling flaws, but it could still win my heart due to characterization or story. Or a perfectly structured novel might leave me feeling nothing, and won’t get a great review. I DO always try to find something positive to say about a book, or I won’t say anything much at all. I DO NOT engage in mean-spirited snark, although I do give constructive criticism. As a writer, I can’t stand the former, and always appreciate the latter, even if it’s “negative.”Hope this makes sense. Any questions, comments, or vague misgivings are welcome in the comments!