Review: The Tragedy Paper

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Tragedy PaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Published by Knopf BFYR on January 8, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 312
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central

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 love.

First Sentence: “As Duncan walked through the stone archway leading into the senior dorm, he had two things on his mind: what ‘treasure’ had been left behind for him and his Tragedy Paper.”

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.

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 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.

Favorite Quote:

“‘I’m not going to give up,’ she said. ‘If you don’t come, I guess I’ll just go alone. You know that book If You Give a Moose a Muffin? Well, in this case, If You Give a Girl a Pancake in a Snowstorm . . . I am unstoppable.'”

20 responses to “Review: The Tragedy Paper”

  1. Bookworm1858 says:

    I have a copy of it and I’m really excited to give it a shot. I love boarding school stories, I think because of the elite aspect. I also love high society novels: stories about a small group of people who’ve known each for ages, have to follow certain rules, and who may never get away from each other…there’s just something very compelling about it all to me.

    • Christina says:

      Very true. There’s an appeal about boarding school. It’s rather odd, since I think very few people actually attend one. There’s a much higher rate of boarding school in the fictional universe. I think it’s the freedom and the affect that has on the teens. It’s like being at college when your hormones are all out of whack.

  2. Audra says:

    Is it meant to be a retelling of Macbeth? I kind of wish Macbeth were my surname…

    • Christina says:

      I was wondering about that and I suspect there were some cute references, but Macbeth isn’t one of the plays I know best. I don’t think it’s a retelling per se, but I bet there are inside jokes/references.

  3. Ohhhh! The allusion to Ethan Frome! Holla.


    Stop writing such smart reviews, I am like soooo offended that you write way better than me.

    But seriously, I liked that you talked about the framing device and story within the story — like you I would have been frustrated but ended up feeling pretty compelled by it.

    I also agree about Irving School — the traditions were so cool.

    • Christina says:

      That part made me laugh so freaking hard!

      Dude, you are crazy. Every time I read one of your reviews, I’m like “why am I not that awesome?” I <3 you so.

      I am not usually that clever about noticing larger themes to framing devices, but I thought of that and felt super smart. Of course, may not have been the author’s intention, but I like it, so I choose to believe it is the truth.

      Even though boarding schools are always terrifying, I always sort of want to go.

  4. Amy says:

    This sounds really interesting. I think I would like it, but would have to be in the right mood to read it. Great review hon!!

    • Christina says:

      I think it’s definitely one to be in the right mood for, since it’s not as action or plot-heavy, not really something to sweep you up and have you frantically flipping pages.

  5. Soma Rostam says:

    Well, this looks interesting. A tragedy paper? I have never heard of that before
    But I wonder what literary piece you are talking about, gotta read the book to find out
    GREAT review, dear
    Your reader,

  6. Kayla Beck says:

    My review: “Was that it?!” Yep, that was the extent of my thoughts. I felt cheated on all levels.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, that happens. I can definitely see why you would feel that way, but obviously I liked it. *shrugs*

    • Kayla Beck says:

      Oh, I liked it a lot. I couldn’t put it down. However, when I found out what the big EVENT was from that previous year, I was so beyond disappointed. It was the epitome of underwhelming. I was thinking that something terrible happened, and it really wasn’t all that bad. *sigh* The writing was beautiful, and it was close enough to literary fiction that it made me all happy and shiz. Speaking of literary fiction, I’m seriously thinking of hitting those First Flight books that are piling up. Have you read The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill yet?

  7. This sounds sooooo good! I have a thing for books that take place in boarding schools and I think you hit the nail on the head with why that is. The freeness of the kids and the elitism it represents is so intriguing. I think I would love how this story is revealed on the tapes, it reminds me loosely of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. You did mention that it was slow.. that may not be good for my constantly wondering mind but I really want to read this one!!!

    • Christina says:

      Lol, Jenni, I don’t know that I would recommend this one to you. I doubt you would like it. I mean, maybe, but I’d suggest getting a library card…

  8. I haven’t read very many reviews of this one, but this is such a thorough review that my interest is piqued, Christina! Framing devices = of the good when they work, and it sounds like it DOES in this one. *squee* *puts on glasses* *feels smart* Anyway, this is my way of saying great review!

    • Christina says:

      It’s definitely a change from the rest of your contemporaries this month, but I appreciated it, even if I wouldn’t want to read a bunch of books like this.

  9. Renae M. says:

    So I haven’t read either book, but The Tragedy Paper sounds so similar to 13 Reasons Why. Not sure if that’s an appropriate comparison since I have no firsthand knowledge, but yeah. Totally sounds familiar.


    I think I’ll probably pick up this book at some point. I’m pretty sure I fit into the “niche” of readers you mention, and if not, then…I really don’t know myself at all. Which is unsurprising at this point.

    • Christina says:

      You’re not the first to mention that, but I really can’t say since I haven’t read that one. Blogger fail.

      Nope. No one knows what you like.

  10. Ugh. I can’t decide if I want to read this one or not. I checked out from the library but ended up returning it because I wasn’t interested enough. And I have this problem where I’m not the biggest fan of male narrators. But I do love books that aren’t so much focused on action but more on concepts. I get kind of overwhelmed when things are too fast paced. I guess I won’t completely count this one out just yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge