Book Review: The Tragedy Paper

tragedypaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban. January 2013. 9780375970405. Gr. 7-12.

“As Duncan walked under the stone archway leading into the senior dorm, he had two things on his mind: what ‘treasure’ had been left behind for him and his Tragedy Paper. Well, maybe three things: he was also worried about which room he was going to get.”

The Irving School has many traditions, including the big assignment in Senior English: Tragedy Paper.  How do you define “tragedy” in the literary sense?  For years, seniors at the Irving School have been trying to answer that very question with mixed results. Now that Duncan is a senior, he is ready to be a part of it all—the treasure and the tragedy.

The problem is Duncan is trying to forget about a tragedy that happened last year.  He keeps telling himself that he is not going to repeat the same mistakes.  He’s going to move on.  Only, the treasure he finds in his room is hardly what he might have hoped.  He finds a stack of CD’s, and when he plays them, he hears the story of what happened last year from the perspective of the boy who had his room last year.  From there, the story splits into two narratives that seem to parallel each other.

Last year, Tim transferred to Irving to escape his old school and maybe have a better experience.  He just wants to blend in, but that isn’t easy for him.  Tim is albino, so his appearance tends to draw attention to him no matter what he does. At Irving, he has caught the attention of one of the most popular girls at school.  That might sound like a good thing, but not when she has a boyfriend.  Duncan listens to Tim’s story with dread because he knows how it ends, but readers are in the dark.  The details slowly come out, and the suspense builds as we delve deeper into Tim’s experience and insecurities.

This book is a compelling mix of mystery, suspense, and, yes, tragedy that will draw in readers with hints of secrets and keep them turning pages to the end.  It’s highly readable, and it will likely have broad teen appeal from readers who like psychological suspense to those who want to explore the layers of literary references to tragedy throughout the novel.

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