February 20, 2014

Book Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 12:48 pm by The Word Jar

The Tragedy Paper CoverYou are your own worst enemy. The Tragedy Paper, Elizabeth LaBan’s novel recently released in paperback, exemplifies how this statement is never more true than when you are a teenager.

Duncan Meade is about to start his senior year at the Irving School, a private school on the East Coast. He arrives on campus anticipating and dreading two important senior traditions—the “gift” that will be in his room, left by the previous occupant, and the Tragedy Paper, a paper all seniors have to complete before graduation. But the gift is not what he expected. Duncan finds a set of CDs promising to reveal the truth behind what happened at the previous year’s Senior Game and, in the process, help him complete his Tragedy Paper.

Tim MacBeth is the previous occupant of Duncan’s room and at the center of last year’s Senior Game accident. He recorded the CDs to describe how he ended up at the Irving School and what he went through once he was there.

Tim, a teenager with albinism, meets Vanessa, the stereotypical pretty and popular girl, on his way to the school. They happily keep each other company when their flight is delayed, and Tim is amazed at his luck. But, Vanessa of course has a boyfriend, and when they arrive at school, said boyfriend intimidates Tim, so he and Vanessa are forced to maintain their budding friendship on the sly. But Vanessa’s boyfriend also makes a point of including Tim in the planning of the Senior Game. Tim believes he’s only recruited as a joke, but he goes along with everything because, for once, he’s enjoying being included.

Tim, dealing with albinism, serves at the ultimate teenage outsider. While most teenagers find some way to fit in with their peers, Tim feels his very appearance, completely unalterable, keeps others away. Or does it? The CDs reveal that much of the distance between Tim and his peers is Tim’s misperception, and this misperception–that no one would possibly accept him–keeps him from befriending others. But others do try to befriend him, and as revealed by Duncan’s narrative, some people hardly noticed Tim at all.

The Tragedy Paper alternates between Tim’s and Duncan’s point of view. Perhaps because Duncan so often plays the part of a passive listener, Tim’s quickly becomes the more engaging narrative.

While The Tragedy Paper culminates by describing the fateful accident, the scope of the accident itself lacks the tragedy built up throughout the story. The accident does have horrible consequences, but weighing it against Tim’s own thoughts and actions as heard on the CDs, the outcome wasn’t that unexpected. It felt that there was much ado about not so much. Much can be attributed to Tim’s lack of self-esteem, which has more to do with him being a typical teenager than it does with his albinism. But the book is full of teenage melodrama and angst, and teens should readily relate to the story.

The Tragedy Paper lacks the emotional depth of fellow YA narrator-on-an-audio-device novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher or the intricate boarding school mystery of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. But it illuminates the fragile teenage psyche using an unconventional narrator and explores the notion that everyone just wants to belong and the cost of making that happen. For that, teens should find The Tragedy Paper to be a worthwhile read.