January 22, 2013

The classic tragedy of young love

By Elizabeth LaBan
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“Enter here to be and find a friend,” reads the stone entrance arch at the Irving School, a small boarding school in upstate New York. Like friendship itself, this supposedly inspirational saying proves to be much more complicated than perhaps the school’s founders intended. The Tragedy Paper opens with Duncan starting a new school year under that arch; he’s a senior, but he’s more than a little apprehensive about the year to come. There is, of course, the Tragedy Paper, a requirement for every student in Mr. Simon’s senior English class, in which he’ll need to analyze a story—even a true story—for the elements of classical tragedy. And adding to his dread is the memory of the horrible things that happened the year before, when Duncan was a junior.

Duncan would probably rather forget about all of that, but when he discovers that his room was formerly occupied by Tim Macbeth, last year’s senior who was at the center of everything that happened, he knows forgetting is unlikely. And when he discovers that Tim has left him an account of those events, narrated in his own voice, Duncan knows that ignoring the past will be entirely impossible.

LaBan’s debut novel alternates between Tim’s first-person narrative and the third-person account of Duncan’s current senior year. Tim's story—in large part about the forbidden attraction between albino Tim and the most popular girl at school—is more dramatic by nature, and so it’s not surprising that this alternating approach can seem a bit uneven. But the suspense builds throughout, as does the sense of dread, and readers may be inspired to parse both Tim and Duncan’s stories, thinking about those classic elements of tragedy in a new light.

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The Tragedy Paper

The Tragedy Paper

By Elizabeth LaBan
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780375870408

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