Book Reviews Young Adult Books

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

I’ve seen a few reviews of The Tragedy Paper floating around the internet, and it seems that some people are not fans (Elizabeth, we can still be friends)

Sometimes this makes me all paranoid that maybe I was the only person alive who loved it and possibly I have no taste at all.

In this case, I don’t really care. I felt like I hadn’t read any decent contemporary YA books in quite some time and this one really drew me in. I flew through it, enjoying every page, in about a day and a half.

The Tragedy Paper has two narrators. The first one is Tim Macbeth. He is an albino boy who transferred to the Irving School (a private boarding school) in the second semester of his senior year. Because he’s an albino, he’s always felt a little sidelined and he hopes that he can have some sort of positive high school experience before he graduates.

What he doesn’t expect is to fall for Vanessa, who is a popular and very pretty senior at Irving. He meets her on his flight out to the school and they seem to have a connection, but once they arrive at school, she (of course!) has a boyfriend. Who is kind of a scumbag. (Of course!). Some semblance of a relationship between the two of them develops, but neither of them quite seems to know what to make of it, and Vanessa certainly doesn’t want it to be public. Things very quickly get complicated.

Also, Tim is recounting the whole story after the fact. So you get a lot of commentary from him about how things played out or how he sees things now with the benefit of hindsight.

The other side of the story is Duncan. He’s a current senior at Irving, the year after Tim and Vanessa were seniors. He knows how their story ends (even though, as the reader, you don’t), and it’s quickly obvious that, whatever happened at Irving the year before, it’s made a deep impression on Duncan.

Which brings us to the Tragedy Paper. Every year, Mr. Simon, the senior English teacher, assigns the students to finish out their high school experience by writing a paper on tragedy – defining it in both literature and real life, using whatever examples they see fit. It’s become legendary at Irving.

And as Duncan moves through his senior year with the Tragedy Paper hanging over his head and simultaneously learns more details about what exactly happened with Tim and Vanessa, he can’t help but start to draw parallels.

I loved the way this book set you up so you watch Tim moving steadily toward whatever it was that happened, and Duncan looking back at the events of the previous year, on the one hand trying to not think about it, but also unable to quit hearing more about Tim’s months at Irving.

It’s not a perfect book – there’s a portion of the book about a quarter from the end that drags for a while. Everything has been set up, but there’s a little bit of delay before the climax. This part, I could have done without.

And Vanessa? I really liked her at the outset of the book, but by the end, my patience for her was growing a bit thin. Tim and Duncan, though, I really thoroughly liked, even when they were being complete morons. 

Overall, this book reminded me of some of my very favorite YA novels – The Chocolate War (although it’s not nearly as dark or violent), The Outsiders, and Thirteen Reasons Why.

Now I need some other people to read it and tell me if I’m just completely wrong or if it really was as gratifying a read as I thought it was. 

Copy checked out from my local library

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  • Reply Erica April 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    What happened with them?!?! I have a stack of books to read, so I more than likely won't read this for ages and ages, but your post is so suspenseful that I need to know the ending now! (I love spoilers, btw, so spoil away)

  • Reply Kayla April 4, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Oh, this sounds very good! Added it to my to-read list on goodreads! It's been a while since I've read some YA Contemporary Fiction, so I'm excited for this.

  • Reply heidikins April 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    There is a Macbeth AND a Duncan? And a main plot point of a tragedy paper?

    …Oh, hello Shakespeare…nice to see you here.

    There isn't three weird witches/sisters/crazies, is there? 😉


  • Reply NGS April 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I read your snippet review right right before I went to Elizabeth's "abysmal" review and I seriously couldn't stop giggling for five minutes. And then I immediately put it on my library list. I'll be sure to let you know what I think of it when I finally get around to reading in 2016. I seem to always be about three years behind everyone else with the cool books!!

  • Reply Amanda April 4, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I just got this from the library! So glad to see you liked it!

  • Reply Lindsay April 5, 2013 at 3:47 am

    I really like "The Outsiders," so I'll have to give this a try! And if I do, I'll let you know what I think. 🙂

  • Reply Melanie April 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I liked it. I think I liked it a lot. I'm still processing it and have been for a few days but I find myself thinking about it frequently. BTW- we have mutual friends so I feel as if we actually know eachother and I'm a huge fan of your book reviews. I have yet to be disappointed and we are almost always on the same page.

  • Reply Melanie @ Life's Sweet Words April 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I just stumbled upon your site and loved the comment about you. I have just started my blogging adventure and have realized that I also use a large amount of parentheses (gotta love sidenotes) but I figure hey they might be helpful! 🙂 I enjoyed your review and am going to have to add this to my reading list (though it may take me a while to get there, I have about 10 already on it).

  • Reply Rae April 27, 2013 at 4:21 am

    I read it on your reccomendation,and really enjoyed it. There were a few moments where I thought the author stumbled into a few of the YA lit cliches, but I thought it as well done. I did just finish the Sliver Linings Playbook, which I thought was outstanding, so it paled in comparison. I also think it would have been better if Duncan's parts were in first person as well

  • Reply Katie April 27, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    I also just finished reading this one based on your recommendation. I enjoyed the story well enough, but I found that I didn't really feel that much emotion one way or the other for the characters. I disliked Patrick; it wasn't hard to do, but aside from that, the characters didn't really come to life for me. I think the ending might have been a little too tidy for me. Perhaps I'll give it another go in a few months and see what I think of it then.

  • Reply Melanie September 3, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Sorry, I'm with Elizabeth on this one. The plot and the characters just didn't work for me. Also, what's with the constant descriptions of food? I mean, I wouldn't mind going to Irving for the make-your-own-doughnut day and the grass fed hamburgers, but those are just strange details to keep reappearing in a story that has nothing to do with the cafeteria.

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