The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan | Review

Posted February 3, 2014 by Tara in Review /// 10 Comments

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan | ReviewThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Series: standalone
Published by Random House LLC on 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Suspense, Young Adult
Pages: 312
Source: Purchased from Barnes and Noble

The Tragedy Paper is one of my favorite kinds of books: boarding school fiction! Somehow I didn't realize that when I purchased it. I thought it would be an action story, maybe with a dash of a dystopian or espionage element. Don't know why I can't just read the freakin' description on things. Anyways.

Duncan has arrived in his new room for his senior year at the Irving School, and has found the traditional gift left in his room by the prior occupant. What he finds is a series of CDs left by Tim, the albino boy that Duncan remembers well from the events of the prior year. Duncan listens to Tim's story, reconstructing exactly what happened and why on that fateful February night where their paths crossed -- and both of their lives changed forever. Tim hopes his story will help Duncan construct his Tragedy paper, Irving School's traditional senior paper on the elements of literary tragedies, and explain how a modern day tragic hero's tale came to be.

The Tragedy Paper was such an interesting read that I finished the novel in one sitting. The story is a mystery to the reader, told in flashbacks through Tim’s CDs, which is what keeps readers turning pages. It is clear from the beginning of the novel that something major happened that Duncan remembers, but he was only present for a final event that resulted from a long chain of seemingly innocuous events.

Tim’s story is wrapped up in Vanessa, the beautiful-yet-taken girl he pines for at Irving. While TIm is a fascinating character, Vanessa felt a little underdeveloped. I’m guessing this is by design. Tim sees her as an unattainable object of desire, so we as readers must see a particularly flat version of a girl whose emotions we are never privy to. She leads Tim on for much of the story, but the reason why is never clear. Is TIm reading too much into interactions? We’ll never know. However, I found the most interesting character in the novel to be Patrick, Vanessa’s boyfriend. He is completely unpredictable and plays a pretty big role in the major events of the novel. Tim is never sure how he feels about Patrick, and he gave me the creeps from his first appearance.

The other interesting element of the novel is the parallel between the tragedy paper as a project and tragedy as Tim’s story. LaBan is deliberate in discussing these elements through her characters and the fictional characters, making the novel an interesting choice for a high school classroom. I would love to see a teacher pulling this novel to teach tragedies to high schools students, rather than doing notes or lectures on the topic. LaBan even pulls in the specific vocabulary of tragedies to illustrate her points, and makes references to Greek and Shakespearian tragedies in the text. I felt she did this well, making the connections minimal and appropriate without sacrificing or detracting from the story.

Final Grade: B

Some points of the story did feel a little contrived, but overall I felt this was a strong debut novel from Elizabeth LaBan. Of course, I’m a sucker for a boarding school story and a mystery plot, but I do appreciate a novel with a more literary feel. I would recommend the book to fans of Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard, Wonder by RJ Palacio, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher for their similarities in setting, protagonist, and narrative structure respectively.

What is your favorite literary tragedy?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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10 responses to “The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan | Review

  1. This sounds like a really interesting novel! I might add it to my To Read list. I’m not sure what my favourite literary tragedy is – I’m not a huge fan of tragedies, enjoy the comedies more. And for some reason the only tragedy I can remember reading right now is Hamlet (I know I’ve read more), which was good, but not particularly enjoyable, to be honest.

  2. “Don’t know why I can’t just read the freakin’ description on things. Anyways.”
    That seems to happen to me a lot as well….

    The Tragedy Paper sounds like a really interesting read and I might have to pick it up sometime soon. If my TBR pile would ever decrease (it never seems to).

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