Book Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

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A beautiful portrait of first love and tragic loss comes to life in Elizabeth Laban’s stunning debut novel The Tragedy Paper.

tragedy paper, theTim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “it” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.

The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa’s story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving’s history.

Laban brilliantly explores the definition of a tragedy — both in the context of the story itself, and through her characters, who are tasked by their senior English teacher to write a “tragedy paper” throughout the duration of the school year. The fact that the main character is named after Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters, seems to be no coincidence.

The Tragedy Paper has the earmarks of what will one day be a true literary classic, something that would find itself at home both in personal reading lists and in the classroom. Laban brings to life a rich cast of characters, each struggling with their own definitions of a “tragedy” and the trials of adolescence and growing up.

As Laban brings The Tragedy Paper full circle, she leaves the ultimate judgement up to the reader: is Tim Macbeth’s story a tragedy? Or is it something else? It’s the sort of question that will linger in readers’ minds long after finishing the very last page.

The Tragedy Paper is in stores tomorrow.

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