I wish there were more literary young adult books out there. While I certainly do not mind the more commercial YA books, I just LOVE curling up with a good literary book, especially on a cold evening. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan is an evocative contemporary novel set at a boarding school in the Hudson Valley during winter. It is the ideal read for a January evening. The characters are tragic and compelling. The story is intense. LaBan does a fantastic job reminding me exactly why it is that young adult is my go-to genre.
Duncan is psyched for his senior year at Irving School, a boarding school in the Hudson Valley in downstate NY. It’s the year when seniors get their own rooms and the previous occupant leaves a treasure behind for the new occupant. Duncan, however, is disappointed to find that he has Tim Macbeth’s old room and a pile of CDs. The CDs come with a letter from Tim stating it is the best present he could leave, because the CDs will help Duncan to write his tragedy paper. The tragedy paper being an English thesis all Irving School seniors must write exploring the meaning of tragedy and weaving in literature. Skeptical, Duncan begins to listen to the CDs and immediately finds himself transported by Tim’s words to the events leading up to last year’s tragedy. The Tragedy Paper alternates between Duncan and Tim.
Duncan is the main narrator of The Tragedy Paper, in that he’s the character existing in real time. He has his own narrative which basically center around him listening to Tim’s discs and also trying to get the girl named Daisy. As Duncan listens to Tim’s words, he learns from Tim’s mistakes and acts on his newfound knowledge. I thought Duncan was interesting, in that we got to see his reaction to the central story and his very minor role in that story. However, to be 100 percent honest, I read Duncan’s bits really fast because I just wanted to get back to Tim’s narration as Tim is infinitely more engaging.
Although Tim is not the main narrator, he is the character that truly drives Elizabeth LaBan’s debut. Tim is an albino, thus he’s always been treated in a less than compassionate manner by his peers. He decides to go to Irving for the final half of his senior year due to the school’s motto – ‘Enter Here To Be And Find A Friend’. Instead of finding a friend, Tim becomes infatuated with a very popular girl named Vanessa, who happens to be dating the big man on campus, Patrick. Yet, Tim and Vanessa see each other on the low, and there is a definite attraction between the two. Ultimately though, as is inferred from the title and the summary, that attraction is doomed to be a tragedy. Through Tim’s storytelling on the CDs we get to slowly unravel what exactly happened. I very much enjoyed Tim’s voice. It felt authentic and honest and utterly unflinching from the eventual heartbreak.
I really do like books that explore first love, especially when that love is doomed. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan felt different from the typical YA books that I read in that it is heavy. There are plenty of emotions to be had from hope to anxiety to sadness. Yet, there was never a whole lot of swoon going on. I think The Tragedy Paper is quite serious in comparison to say, Anna And The French Kiss, not to diminish either book because they are both fabulous reads. However, if you’re looking for a light contemporary read about boarding school hijinks, look elsewhere.
If you are looking for a readalike to Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, as far as narrative structure goes, definitely read The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan. There are some very big differences between the two books, however the methods of telling the story are quite similar. Only, unlike Clay, Duncan does not need to pass on the CDs when he is done with them. I thought LaBan did an excellent job instilling a sense of place and time within the novel. Like, you can feel the chill of campus and the snow as you read. Also, I ended up really wanting to go back in time and go to a boarding school instead of public school because Irving School sounded so awesome.
The Tragedy Paper is an emotional, heartfelt read that reminds me why I love books. It is artfully written with an utterly compelling character – Tim. I definitely did not see some of the twists coming and usually I’m pretty good at making predictions. If you’re the sort of reader who wants a serious contemporary read that does not beat you over the head with issues, Elizabeth LaBan’s debut novel is the book for you.
Disclosure: Received for review via Amazon Vine
Other reviews of The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan:
It’s All About Books – “Duncan was great too, but it was Tim I really fell for.”
Hobbitsies – “a debut that kind of snuck up on me”
Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf – “once you start it, it’s hard to let go”