Saturday, January 12, 2013
Tragedy in Paper
What constitutes a real tragedy? For a young adult, the answer to that question could be any number of things. For the students of this East Coast boarding school, the tragedy paper is their final goodbye and their biggest revelation. In Elizabeth Laban's The Tragedy Paper, traditions, a social hierarchy, and a literature assignment can change someone's life forever.
Duncan moves into his new dorm room for his senior year, and he finds his "treasure" left from the senior before him to be a bundle of CDs. Despite the crapshoot of a tradition, he had hoped for a better treasure and certainly a better room. But once he starts listening to the legacy Tim, last year's senior who happened to be albino, he has a hard time looking at everything the same way. After what happened last year during the tradition of the Senior Games, he has been different this year anyway. Now, hearing Tim's story about how it all happened, Duncan has a choice: either the tragedy changes who he is or he changes how the tragedy controls their lives.
Tim has always been an outcast. It is hard to hide your differences when you are albino- everyone notices. But starting a new school his senior year, across the country, and in a private school, is more than Tim really thought about when he agreed to give it a try. But on his journey out there, he was stranded in an airport hotel with a beautiful girl named Vanessa. And as luck would have it, Vanessa is headed to the very same school Tim is now a part of, traditions and all. After their whirlwind night building igloos and ordering room service, Tim feels a connection to Vanessa like he has never felt before. However, her boyfriend might not feel the same way about their connection. And now, in a school full of traditions he is completely oblivious to, Tim must find a way to finally find out who he is and how far he is willing to go.
As I started to read this, I immediately thought of Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why. With the CD's and the story left as a legacy, it all sounded very familiar, but it was still really well written and the story was interesting, so I was excited to find out what happened. Add to that this layer of intrigue surrounding the traditions at the private school. This is one of those true East Coast boarding schools layered with generations of students, traditions, and mystery. But the traditions are actually kind of sweet. The idea of the senior before you leaving a treasure for your moving-in day or the seniors hosting an event each year to tap in the new junior committee. All of it is kind of quaint, actually. It wasn't the Skull and Bones stuff you might be thinking of.
And the Tragedy Paper, a kind of thesis culminating in a Literature class's study of true tragedy, is brilliant! In fact, it gave me a lot of insight into my own senior class, and Laban's ideas surrounding this class and this teacher are brilliant. Then comes the adults in the book. Supportive, loving parents, and even a wonderful step-father Tim adores! The teachers? Let's put it this way, the headmaster picks Tim up at the airport after his flight is delayed! This really was a jackpot of stellar adult role models. And I really liked this! So many YA books have absentee parents and cruel, useless teachers. The adults in this book were truly great, and I appreciated that.
*SPOILER* My biggest struggle with this book was the "tragedy" at the end. I hate to even say this, but I wanted a bigger tragedy. Yes, I am sure the tragedy would have been life-altering for those involved, but as they all survived relatively unscathed, I am unsure how believable Duncan's traumatization would have been- it felt forced. Like Laban didn't want to kill anyone she liked, so she just banged them around a little bit. I think the build-up of Duncan's reactions and the tragedy paper needed a tragedy so devastating it would have shaken my world up. But I didn't get that. And sadly, it ruined the ending of a really good book for me. *END SPOILER*
So, I would definitely pass this onto my students, especially being part of a boarding school. It was a great, clean book and perfect for a younger student even though it is about seniors. I wish the ending was a little bit more powerful, but that doesn't detract from the really beautiful writing. And I can't wait to meet Laban at Oblong next month! I hope she has a lot to talk about!