A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Tragedy Paper has some of the hallmarks of boarding school tales: There's a little drinking, some kissing, a fair amount of social stratification, and a lot of breaking school rules. But it's a pretty gentle book overall, and the much-hyped tragedy revealed at the book's end is more thought-provoking than shocking.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
As an albino, Tim Macbeth is used to rude stares, but he still cringes inside. He transfers to Irving School his senior year and grows obsessed with Vanessa, a popular girl who seems to like him ... but only when no one is watching. Tim's crush and his self-doubt set him on a path toward disaster. Exactly what happened, and why, is revealed in a series of CDs he recorded and left in his old dorm room for its next resident, Duncan, who returns to Irving still tortured by last year's events. Duncan is trying to move on: He's pursuing the girl of his dreams and tackling his senior project -- writing the legendary Tragedy Paper. He'd like to ignore Tim's story, but can't resist the lure of learning the truth about Tim and Vanessa.
Is it any good?
The twin narrative -- alternating between Duncan's experiences and Tim's flashback -- lends drama to the thoughtfully spun out story. Tim and Vanessa get off to a promising start, and their first encounter nicely captures the awkwardness and earnestness of teens on the brink of adulthood.
THE TRAGEDY PAPER is a decent debut novel, but author Elizabeth LaBan stirs up a lot of material that doesn't seem to go anywhere. Is Patrick really such a bad guy? Is Vanessa befriending Tim or toying with him? Adult authority figures described as strict or aloof turn out to be rather blandly kind. LaBan layers on the ominous foreshadowing, and the reader braces for grim ending a la Ethan Frome. But the climactic event isn't much of a shock and the menace ultimately lacks teeth. The real tragedy is quieter and should resonate with teens: how Tim let his self-consciousness and desire to be accepted get in the way of his better judgment, and how he brought suffering upon himself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about tragedy. At Irving, students focus on the classic tragedies of Shakespeare while a very real tragedy unfolds around them. What contemporary books have you read that you'd consider tragedies?
Vanessa seeks out opportunities to see Tim alone, encouraging his interest, but keeps their relationship hidden. And despite her complaints, she stays with Patrick. Do you think she's a sympathetic character? Is she a good friend?
Readers can write their own Tragedy Paper, perhaps a short story. Try using a report on the news or in the paper to get started -- or perhaps tell the story of Tim and Vanessa from Vanessa's viewpoint.
- Author: Elizabeth LaBan
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House Children's Books
- Publication date: January 8, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.