Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: "The Tragedy Paper" by Elizabeth LaBan

So much of the so-called young adult fiction world these days is occupied by multiple versions of dystopia, characters with some sort of special power, zombies, vampires, werewolves, angels, and warriors, it's easy to overlook some of the sensational work being done in more "traditional" fiction. I was utterly captivated by Elizabeth LaBan's The Tragedy Paper, and think it's demonstrative of the depth of this genre today.

Tim Macbeth has always been an outsider. Being albino, he's always stood out in crowds for the wrong reasons, when all he really wants to do is hide in a corner and make himself invisible. When his mother and stepfather sell their Chicago house, Tim agrees to attend the prestigious Irving School in upstate New York for his last semester of high school. En route to school, he meets Vanessa Scheller, a vivacious, beautiful, sensitive girl his age—who happens to be a student at Irving as well. Vanessa is, of course, popular, and dating the most popular boy in school, but she seems interested in Tim, especially when there's no one else around.

As Tim tries to fight his growing attraction to Vanessa and deal with confusing behavior from her boyfriend, Patrick, he, like all of his fellow seniors, is obsessed with The Tragedy Paper, Irving's version of a senior thesis, which is an assignment of great magnitude given by a quirky and demanding English teacher. Tim also deals with increasingly alarming physical problems, which he tries to ignore as he attempts to make sense of his relationship with Vanessa, finish his Tragedy Paper, and plan for his future. Everything comes to a head during a fabled and mysterious school activity known as "The Game."

At the heart of this novel is Duncan, a senior who learns firsthand all that transpired in Tim and Vanessa's relationship, as he tries making sense of what occurred, while he tries to take control of his own life (and his own Tragedy Paper). The book switches viewpoints between Tim and Duncan.

I thought this was a really well-written, compelling book. I had suspicions about the direction in which the plot would flow; sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong, but I wanted to keep reading. Even though I couldn't quite identify with the characters as it's been quite some time since high school (sigh) LaBan drew me fully into their stories. I wanted to know what was going to happen to them, and more than that, I wanted to know what happened to the characters after the book was over, which for me is truly the mark of a book I love.

This isn't a book in which high school students lament their lives or their star-crossed loves; this is a book that provokes emotions and may very well remind you of feelings you once had. But even if it doesn't provoke memories, it's still a book you should read.

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