The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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.
Why I Read This:
An impulse read.
What I Thought:
When I saw the cover of this book advertised in a Netgalley newsletter, I was immediately drawn to it. I liked the idea of reading something that was set in a snowy atmosphere and the guy running away from the cover seemed to signal something sinister going on. I really hoped my first impressions (and judging a book by it's cover) would pay off and immediately started reading.
The Tradgedy Paper begins with Duncan who is starting his last year of school at Irving, a boarding school for both boys and girls. There are two traditions in this school. First, that the graduating class leave surprises in the rooms for their new occupents to receive on the first day of school. Second, that the English class of that year focus of the topic of tragedy. With all the fun that he's seen other graduating classes have, Duncan has been looking forward to this year for a long time.
When Duncan finds out he's to board in Tim's old room, he's immediately disappointed. And then he finds a stack of CD's. What's on them? This is where we meet Tim, an albino boy who was a "newbie" last year. Something big happened last year, and he's decided to let Duncan in on the events leading up to it. As the audience, we are left in the dark about what the tragedy is, how Tim was involved, and why Duncan is so compelled to find out what really happened.
From the first page, I was hooked. The flow of the writing made it almost impossible to stop reading. But then, everything was also told in a "this is what happened" point of view. Which means that the narrators kept hinting at something really big to come and made me want to find out even more what was going on.
I wasn't really drawn into Duncan's story at first. It seemed to me that much of his story was simply a break from Tim's voice, or a way to frame his story so that the reader could fill in the gaps of what he doesn't record onto the CD's. However, as the story unfolds, this framing becomes much more significant, not just so we get to know Duncan's involvement, but also so that we understand something much deeper about self-blame and doubt.
This was a beautiful story. It was steeped in mystery, romance, and an atmosphere that was to me, addicting. Though I expected something enticing and sinister, it went beyond my expectations by refusing to be...something expected.
Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book from Knopf via Netgalley.