Young Adult Education The Kind of Book You Can't Put Down: ‘The Tragedy Paper' by Elizabeth LaBan Kerry Winfrey

There’s no better feeling than starting a book and immediately getting sucked in. It’s like the words on the page are quicksand, and the further you read, the more you find yourself trapped in the story. I’m not ashamed to admit that I live for that feeling, but it’s hard to find. Sometimes, even great books don’t draw me in right away. But from the very first page of Elizabeth LaBan’s The Tragedy Paper, I was on board. Going to work or doing anything other than reading was unbearable. And, seriously, you don’t know what it’s like to be a huge nerd until you leave a dinner with friends early so you can go home and read. But enough about me! Let’s talk about The Tragedy Paper.

At the beginning of the book we meet Duncan, who’s just starting his senior year at the way-fancy Irving School. At the same time, we also learn the story of Tim Macbeth, a senior from last year whom Duncan clearly has some issues with. We don’t know what those issues are at the beginning, but luckily Tim recorded his whole story on CDs that he left behind in Duncan’s room. Gradually, as Duncan listens to the CDs, we learn about Tim’s senior year and all the fantastic and terrible things that happened. Throughout all of this, Duncan and Tim worry about the Tragedy Paper, a huge term paper that starts to take over their lives.

Although Duncan is interesting, Tim takes center stage most of the time. An albino who left his old school because he didn’t have any friends, Tim is used to staying out of the spotlight. But when he falls head over heels for Vanessa, his life gets a lot more interesting. I wouldn’t call this book a mystery, but it is very suspenseful. As Duncan hints early on, some bad things happen in this book, and the unsettling foreshadowing was what had me flipping frantically through the pages. I know I’m being a little vague in this plot summary, but that’s because you guys need to read it and I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Aside from the plot, there are so many wonderful details that make this book fantastic. First off, BOARDING SCHOOL! I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: boarding schools are the best settings for books. No parents, dorm rooms, sneaking around, strict teachers…what’s not to like? Tim’s story also takes place in winter, and the snow on the ground, snowballs, and igloos make the whole things seem romantic and magical.

The Tragedy Paper also has the honor of being the only YA book I’ve ever read with an albino main character. Although Tim’s albinism is central to the plot, anyone who’s ever felt left out or left behind will understand how he feels.The Tragedy Paper is about how hard it can be not to belong, and how far we’ll go just to feel like we do. It’s an absolutely fantastic book, and I hope you guys will all check it out. Just maybe not when you have to go to work or leave the house.

Some Highlights:

-A lot of the reviews I read compared The Tragedy Paper to John Green’s Looking For Alaska. Although they’re definitely very different books, that’s a good comparison. They both take place at a boarding school, they both feature main characters who didn’t have many friends at their old schools, and they both revolve around a “tragedy” of some sort. The other way they’re similar is that they’re both realistic, romantic, and literary-minded. If you liked Looking for Alaska (and, duh, who didn’t?), you’ll probably love The Tragedy Paper.

-Jennifer Weiner, who is my hero because she gives great advice and doesn’t take Jeffrey Eugenides too seriously, also loves The Tragedy Paper. In fact, she calls it “a beguiling and beautifully written tale of first love and heartbreak.”

-You can check out the book trailer here and read an excerpt here.

What about you guys? Have you read The Tragedy Paper? Do you love books set in boarding schools as much as I do? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave me a comment, e-mail me at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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  1. Ok I’m going to read this because 1) you recommended it 2) it sounds awesome and 3) you compared it to John Green’s Looking for Alaska which is pretty much one of my favorite books of ALL TIME!!! Thank you for your review. I can’t wait to download it on my kindle! :)

  2. I’ve looked into this book before. Need to check it out again!

    Suggestions – with the movie coming out, Warm Bodies. I am NOT a zombie, Walking Dead type of fan. It’s not like the gruesome stuff on there. It’s not like Twilight. It’s got a really twisty way that two storylines are weaved together and you see things from both perspectives at times. It’s also really (surprisingly) sweet and you’re rooting for a zombie who eats brains… Who woulda thought?

    Last side note – THANK YOU for the Meant to Be suggestion. I LOVED IT!!!!!!

    • I’ll have to check that one out…thanks for the rec! And I’m so glad to hear you loved Meant to Be!

      Kerry Winfrey | 1/19/2013 06:01 pm