The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Publishing Date: January 2013
Genre: young adult
Tim Macbeth, a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants—he just hopes to get through his senior year unnoticed. Yet, 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, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.
Tim, a relatively confident and good-hearted teenage boy, transfers to Irving School for his final semester of senior year in hopes that his social outcast days as an albino will be gone. At the airport, he runs into the energetic Vanessa, and they strike a sweet and unlikely friendship. When they realize they’re going to be classmates, and Vanessa’s popular but near-abusive athletic boyfriend catches a whiff of their friendship, everything is set on edge. Told through two perspectives — Tim, through CD recordings he left for Duncan, and Duncan, the present-day senior and then-junior in Tim’s story — this heartbreaking story of first love and first tragedy will make your soul ache for a happy resolve.
First and foremost, the summary provided by the publisher is misleading. Tim wants to be unnoticed for his albino traits, specifically; he desperately wants friends. Vanessa never outright states she would never be with Tim because of her social status. In fact, Tim is quite friendly with the other students, and they reciprocate. The part Vanessa would have to kiss goodbye is her complicated and abusive relationship with her boyfriend — he’s difficult to let go and both Vanessa and Tim know that a break-up from Vanessa would only lead to violence on Patrick’s part. Their extremely close friendship is more of a secret from Patrick rather than the school. Finally, the teacher who assigns the Tragedy Paper is not “the least forgiving” — no, students love him! He’s fun and entertaining and loves to bake! What’s unforgiving is the paper he assigns.
Phew. With that out of the way, time for a review of the story.
I love how Tim is portrayed. We sympathize with him just like any other protagonist — we want what he wants, we fear what he fears. I’m glad LaBan did not make Tim self-pitying about his being albino. There were moments of insecurity, just like any other teenager would have, about his appearance. His life was most crippling through his eyes, as they’re far more sensitive to light than those of us with pigmentation and other sorts of protection. It’s what I can only guess as an accurate portrayal of an albino: they worry about their fair skin, light eyes, and weak sight, but they are no different in any other way when it comes to daily life. LaBan could have easily made Tim whine and moan but she didn’t. That was fantastic.
The tense moments between Patrick and Tim had me on edge. You never knew if Patrick would end up saying or doing something to Vanessa after conversations with Tim, or if he would attack Tim at any moment. Tim, though an outcast in more ways than one, was very perceptive of Patrick’s quick moods and danced around them effortlessly. He was cautious, but brave.
My least favorite character was Duncan. I could have done without his narrative. Tim’s voice, first person and recorded on CD (which we were reminded of throughout with phrases and interjections like “I know you were there and saw what happened but I just need to explain my story” or “You may have heard this rumor but let me set this straight”), was interesting, interactive, inviting, soothing, and even foreboding. Duncan, third person perspective, was dull and underdeveloped. Thankfully he’s not in there very long. The parallel story-lines helped amp the sense of dread, but I think this book could have worked just fine without Duncan’s perspective.
This was a book I could not put down. I ache to hear Tim’s voice.