The Tragedy Paper Elizabeth LaBan Book Review

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.

The Tragedy Paper Elizabeth LaBan Book Cover

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

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Oooo this one is new to me, but it sounds right up my alley. Adding it to my wish list right now. 🙂

  2. I really like your review! I prefer heavier contemporary and haven’t read anything lately that has blown me away, so I’m definitely going to give this one a try. The whole concept was a bit confusing to me when I first read about this book, but I think I understand it a bit more now. Also, I love that you think it’s similar to Thirteen Reasons Why in terms of narrative style. This definitely sounds like something I’ll enjoy.

  3. I’ve never heard of The Tragedy Papers. It seems very intense. I’m not usually drawn to books like that, but sometimes I pick one up, and of course I love it.

    Glad you liked it.

  4. tnx 4 the review. so exited

  5. You had me at boarding school and this sounds like such an intriguing book! I really like the cover for this and I’m glad the story generally holds up as well. I’m going to have to check this out!

  6. I immediately thought of “A Separate Peace” and “The Dead Poets Society” when I saw this, or even “The Secret History” (though that one not as much). All books that take place at boarding schools. I also love literary reads, and am interested when YA books explore the concept of first love that DOESN’T last, because it rarely does in real life (though you wouldn’t believe that if you based your life on YA novels). I’m also really interested in the fact that the setting plays off the themes of this book.

    However, I am NOT a fan of dual narratives, especially when one took place in the past, and one is in the present. I always do the same as you, think one is more interesting, and get bored with the other. But it sounds like this book was rewarding overall, and I will add it to my list.

  7. I really enjoyed this one as well. I felt like it was definitely a nice break from some of the YA fantasies that I usually read. It reminded me a lot of Dead Poet’s Society. Great review!

  8. Do they have this on audio – or plans to turn it into audio? Your review made it seem like it would be really fitting as an audiobook – and that might even make Duncan a more interesting narrator. I love some characters more when I “hear” them. Anyway, sounds interesting! Not something I’m rushing to read, just because I’m in the mood for something like this at this second, but I’ll definitely be keeping it in mind for the future.

  9. Wow, lovely review, April! I got this one off Netgalley but still haven’t read it…sounds like I need to try reading it soon! The writing sounds incredible.

  10. I love the idea of this book and I love even more that the author handles the balance of multiple narrators and time frames beautifully.

  11. I love how this one sounds like it would totally make me feel everything and think about everything as I read it. Sometimes, it’s good to be exposed to books like that – books that truly make you think, or reflect, or even just feel for the characters. I’m so curious as to what Tim’s story is now!

  12. Okay so I’ve been waiting for your thoughts on this one since I saw your video blog. And then once I saw you mention it, I saw it pop up EVERYWHERE, like everyone seemed to be reading it or getting a copy of it at the same time and I was like where in the world did this book come from? But I waited still for your thoughts because it did indeed seem like an April book with the content and genre and theme and whatnot.

    I love this review. It might be one of my favorites of yours. It makes me want to read this even more. I’ve added it to my to-read to pick up hopefully soon. I’m kind of a sucker for those doomed love stories – I feel them super deeply and get that crazy bookish stress that I wrote about. That’s why I need to wait just a little bit before I read it (it’s totally the Unearthly series’ fault) but soon I do want to read this one.

    I’m SO GLAD you went ahead and blogged about this book. Thank you!


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  2. […] Random House  Other Reviews:  Andrea @ Cozy Up With A Good Read â”‚ April @ Good Books and Good Wine â”‚ Jen @ YA Romantics Disclaimer:  I borrowed a copy of this book from my library. […]