Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth Laban
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Traditions are important at Irving School. Every senior is left a treasure by the person who lived in their room before them, there is the annual donut breakfast, the secret big game, and the tragedy paper for senior English. Duncan’s treasure is a stack of CDs that explain the events of last year’s game where things went terribly wrong. As he listens to the story and puts the pieces together he is determined not to make the same mistakes.
The setting is the strength of The Tragedy Paper. Irving School is believable and it’s depiction will fit what readers are generally looking for in a boarding school novel. Unfortunately very little else works quite as well. While similar in some respects to Shattering Glass and 13 Reasons Why this one is somehow almost timid in comparison. Nothing is taken quite far enough.
First, while we know we are leading up to some big event that’s a bit of a mystery the book never succeeds in building any tension about the reveal. We know the person in question survived to tell about it and we know the entire school has moved on. The most interesting conflict is resolved before the story has even begun.
Duncan, our present time narrator, is an unnecessary middle man. The Tragedy Paper is Tim’s story and Duncan’s role in it is so minor there is little narrative benefit to adding him. Instead he distances us too far from the emotional impact of Tim’s story. Tim’s albinism also seems more like a deus ex machina plot device than something important to his character.
Given that the use of text messaging and the repetitive saga of the school’s emphasis on local foods places the story firmly in the present the idea of teens burning CDs and sending top-secret invitations on paper when text messages are available seems rather out of place. Teenagers today were in diapers when the last “Time to Make the Donuts” commercial aired, let alone when it was a catch phrase. Overall The Tragedy Paper has some teen appeal, but the execution falls short on both suspense and emotional magnitude.