Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

Saturday, January 5, 2013
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Series: Standalone
Website: The Book Trailer (it's perfect)
Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
"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."
From Good Reads, since I couldn't do the summary justice.

Usually, I start off a review by talking about the characters, but for The Tragedy Paper, I want to talk about the atmosphere, as it makes the book. It is stunning- a combination of raw emotion, the feel of swirling snow, and a controlled chaos. Maybe that doesn't make any sense, but it will once you read it, which you definitely should. You will go into The Tragedy Paper, knowing from the title that there won't be a happily ever after, but a certain hope will still remain. And that's what makes The Tragedy Paper so devastatingly beautiful.

The boarding school setting really adds to this atmosphere. Boarding schools are always a plus (Looking for Alaska, Name of the Star, Harry Potter series, etc.), but this one is so full of tradition. The traditions surrounding the Irving School are exciting and daunting all at once, and they make the school seem whole. It is one of the most realistic settings I have ever read about, and I felt like I was at the Irving School with the characters while I was reading.

It is so easy to connect with both Duncan and Tim. Their pain, joy, dread, insecurities... all of that is interwoven throughout the story. It's important to note that while other characters are around, it's a relatively small cast. Really, it's just Tim, Vanessa, Duncan (the boy listening to Tim as he narrates his story on CDs), Daisy (Duncan's love interest), Patrick (Vanessa's boy friend), and, of course, Mr. Simon ("the school's least forgiving teacher"). The dynamic between Tim and Vanessa, as well as that between Tim and Patrick, is exceptionally well done and realistic. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about Vanessa on her own, though. Sometimes I liked her, sometimes I hated her. But I understand what Tim sees in her, and that's really the point. Patrick is one of the most interesting characters, probably because he's so unpredictable. Duncan, meanwhile, is just trying to figure everything out. He's confused and desperate for everything to be normal again, but he learns from Tim, and I loved that. As for Mr. Simon, he reminds me in some ways of one of my favorite English teachers.

The overlapping themes of tragedy add yet another layer to this incredibly intricate story. Apparently, the tragedy paper was an actual assignment at Laban's school. I know that this book has certainly made me more interested in the composition of a tragedy, and I found myself thinking of order and chaos long after I had turned the last page. (Confession: I actually used monomania in an English assignment.) While tragedy is the focus of this book, though, there is still so much intrigue surrounding this story. I waited with bated breath to find out exactly what happened the year prior to Duncan's senior year, simultaneously wanting to read faster to get to the end and slower to absorb the story before it was all over. That's how good this book is.

In fact, even though it's only January, The Tragedy Paper is already one of my favorite reads of 2013. I really, genuinely hope you take the time to read it, too.
*4.5 stars*
A Quote from the Book (Unfinished ARC): "Now go forth and spread beauty and light." 
What are some of your favorite boarding school books? 
Thanks so much to Random House for letting me be apart of this tour! 


  1. Oh! I just heard about this book last week and now I see April's review at Good Books Good Wine and yours! I am now even more psyched to read this.

    Great solid review!

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