The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
First published on Serendipity Reviews on Saturday 16th February 2013
Published by Doubleday 20th January 2013
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. Well, maybe three things: he was also worried about which room he was going to get.
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 secrets.
Review by Sophie Duffy
I really enjoyed The Tragedy Paper. It is a combination of Harry Potter without the magic, the quirkiness of The Gilmore Girls’ and the intrigue and emotion of the Dead Poets Society.
The novel is beautifully written in an easily accessible style. A great example of less is more. I could picture the action and the boarding school setting and was never bored by pointless description or excessive exposition. I think the dual viewpoint keeps the novel fresh and the reader engaged. As the novel progresses, the more hooked I was, waiting with trepidation to find out what the big secret was. LaBan is very good at building up tension and delivering results.
This is a coming-of-age story. Finding your place in the world and establishing an identity that is something other than what has always been given you. Tim, an albino, has always been just that: an albino. Now he has the chance to be accepted into the inner circle of cool kids, under the jurisdiction of Patrick. And Tim takes this chance.
But to add complications into the mix there is also a love interest: Vanessa, Patrick’s girlfriend. Tim is love struck but never knows where he stands. Vanessa blows hot and cold and stays with Patrick even though he can be callous and shallow. Why does she like Tim so much? Is she leading him on or is there more to her feelings for him?
Running parallel to this is the story of Duncan and Daisy. Duncan is allocated Tim’s room the year after he leaves under difficult circumstances. He discovers some CDs that Tim has left him. The ‘treasure’. It is Tim’s version of events of the year before. As Duncan listens to the CDs we hear the story of Tim and Vanessa and find out what happened one tragic night.
The two stories intertwine and reflect each other and there are resonances of the elements of tragedy that every final year student has to study for a big project known as The Tragedy Paper.
The boarding school atmosphere is authentic and easy to connect with. It’s a privileged world but one with its fair share of problems and conflicts that you would find in any school: boy v. girl, teacher v. student, popular v. unpopular etc. And, as anywhere, it is friendship, compassion, courage and truth that count.
I thoroughly recommend this debut novel, which has been compared to Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. I look forward to future novels by Elizabeth LaBan.