The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban (2013)
Suggested age range: 13 and up
(Borzoi, 312 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, School Story
“I had no clue at that moment, of course, what I had set in motion.”
The Book: Tim Macbeth transfers to Irving High School as a seventeen year old senior, and he is different than the other students. He is an albino. Before he arrives at school, he meets Vanessa, who happens to be dating one of the most popular boys at school, Patrick. Vanessa and Tim hit it off, however, and they maintain a significant connection even in the midst of their attempting to keep their relationship hidden from general knowledge. Tim is frequently teased by Patrick, Vanessa’s chauvinistic boyfriend, who recruits Tim to help him with the senior’s “secret outing.”
The story alternates between Tim’s viewpoint and that of Duncan’s, a senior who arrives at the school the year after Tim. Duncan listens to CDs made by Tim about what happened the previous year. The reader knows Duncan was involved somehow, but we aren’t sure exactly what happened. Duncan is told by Tim at the beginning of the recording, that he is giving him the content for his senior project, his “tragedy paper.”
What is the tragedy that took place at Irving High School and what role did Tim Macbeth play in that? As Tim’s story unfolds, readers may have a difficult time putting the book down.
Spirituality in The Tragedy Paper: Tim’s character offers a spiritual dimension to this contemporary school story. How should we treat and interact with those whom look different from us or represent a vastly different background? In other words, should we treat our brother as ourselves? Thinking about Vanessa’s issues in the book: how important is social status and how do we avoid valuing superficial appearances over valuing authentic relationships and being kind to others? There are many discussion worthy passages from the book that highlight the challenges and struggles related to relationships in high school.
Who Should Read This Book: Readers who enjoy a good school story, but want something profound and thought-provoking should pick up Laban’s novel. Tim’s character reflects many of the insecurities and concerns that adolescents may face today, and his identity as an albino adds a significant dimension to the book. Readers may walk away from this book having a little bit more understanding of what it is like to be someone who stands out to everyone else, and can’t do anything about it.
The Final Word: Giving this book my highest rating, I could not put it down and loved it. It was my second book for Bout of Books 9.0 and I raced through it. The school culture at Irving fascinated me, and the relationships between the students and the teachers/administration is another discussion-worthy aspect of the story. The design of the book is beautiful—the endpapers represent a map of the school and provide readers with something to examine. I was drawn to discover the tragedy of what happened when Tim Macbeth arrived at Irving High School. Expect to be drawn into Laban’s novel once you read the first chapter.