Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Tragedy Paper

There are books that reader me loves and teacher me exalts in. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan is such a book.

As Duncan enters The Irving School for his senior year he is worried about three things: what dorm he's assigned, what treasure has been left by the previous occupant, and his looming Tragedy paper. The Tragedy paper is the Irving equivalent of a senior thesis and Duncan, more of a Math than English lover, is concerned. There are a lot of traditions at Irving and a big one is that the departing seniors leave a treasure for the upcoming seniors occupying their rooms.  Duncan is dismayed to find that he is assigned the one room no one wants. The room that Tim, the Albino kid, had the year before. On the desk he finds his treasure: a stack of CD's and a letter:
Dear Duncan,
When I was told you'd be living in this room, I have to be honest, I couldn't believe it. 
Maybe you can guess what I'm going to say, but I''m going to tell you anyway. It's important that you know why and exactly ow everything happened. Someone has to-someone might be able to use the information and not make the same mistakes I made. Maybe. I don't know.
Let me say one important thing I would be money you didn't expect and then I will leave with your senior year: what you are about to hear, the words, the music, my downfall, as well as your perceived or actual role in it, will serve you better than you could have imagined. Basically, I am giving you the best gift, the best treasure, you could ask for. I am giving you the meat of your Tragedy Paper.
Yours Truly,

As Duncan listens to Tim's story of events over two months the year before both of their lives unfold before the reader. Tim is a forceful narrator using words to weave a web that draws the reader in. Duncan's sections are jarring in comparison. He is less wordy, more confused, and, strangely, more tormented. The way the two boys' lives intersect and diverge is a fascinating story in contrasts, as are the questions about fate, tragedy, choices, and life the story brings out. The minor characters aren't as fleshed out, but that is the result of seeing most of them through Tim's jaded and fogged vision and Duncan's insubstantial memories. I really like Duncan's girlfriend though and feel she adds so much to his story. I love how their relationship is a quintessential teen romance too. They were sweet, awkward, and a little too precious at times, but this reflects the reality of what so many teen age dating relationships are like. 

The book is a treasure trove of literary allusions and the perfect text to use for teaching the concepts of tragedy in literature. (This very much excited teacher me. I have so many plans that center around using this book in a classroom now.) At the same time the book manages to have hope and beauty. It is realistic, but never gets bogged down with unnecessary angst.

I loved this book for the characters and settings and look forward to reading more from Ms. LaBan in the future. 


  1. I'm glad to know you liked this so much; I was wondering if I should look for it, and I guess I should!

    1. I did really enjoy it. I am interested to see what a non-English teacher will think of it. :)