From Goodreads: Tim Macbeth is 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. Jumping between viewpoints of the love-struck Tim and Duncan, a current senior about to uncover the truth of Tim and Vanessa, The Tragedy Paper is a compelling tale of forbidden love and the lengths people will go to keep their secrets.
The Tragedy Paper was not on my original list of 2013 debuts, but over the last month I’ve come across too many glowing reviews to pass it up. I mean really… A story about a clandestine romance set at a New England boarding school pretty much screams Katy Book!
The Tragedy Paper‘s format reminds me of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s recent graduate Tim’s story (his tragedy, really) relayed through a collection of CDs gifted to current senior Duncan (who is peripherally and mysteriously linked to the aforementioned tragedy). The Tragedy Paper‘s structure portrays the boys’ parallel plot lines in a way that makes them feel equally important, especially considering that as their stories unfold, Tim and Duncan are both pondering what, exactly, makes a tragedy, as well as working toward completing their all-important tragedy papers.
If The Tragedy Paper‘s format hints at Thirteen Reasons Why, its tone is reminiscent of A Separate Peace by John Knowles. There’s the boarding school setting of course, and then there’s the dynamic between students of different social standings, the one-tiny-moment-can-change-everything theme, and the constant defining and redefining of the word tragedy. All of these things in combination made me think often of Gene and Phineas and how their fatal flaws compared to those of Tim and Duncan.
I think The Tragedy Paper‘s greatest strength lies in its earnestness. It’s a quiet sort of book and the characters who populate its pages are wholesome kids mostly trying to do the right thing. But, they have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and those weaknesses and vulnerabilities are what kept me turning pages. I felt for Tim who, at his core, is a good guy with some serious self-esteem issues. I felt for Vanessa, whose seemingly effortless existence isn’t entirely so. And I felt for Duncan, who endeared me with his dorkiness, not to mention the guilt he carries for his part in the tragedy that changed all of the characters’ lives irreparably.
If there was anything I wanted more of from The Tragedy Paper, it was the “forbidden love” element mentioned in the story’s summary. (Of course, I’m a romance girl and I always want more swoon-worthy moments. ♥) While I got a definite sense of Tim’s pining for Vanessa, I wanted more scenes with those same feelings reciprocated by her. I often wondered if she was leading Tim on because she enjoyed his attention, though she sought him out enough to convince me that she felt true affection for him. More than once I just wanted to shake Vanessa and make her face up to her feelings even though they were difficult and complicated.
The Tragedy Paper was an incredibly satisfying read. It was also an intense read. I’ve found myself thinking about it and its messages since I finished a few days ago. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of contemporary YA, and to readers who appreciate clean, straightforward prose and characters who experience profound growth over the course of a story.
Check out these recommendations from my fellow Bookanistas:
Debra Driza wonders at WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
Jessica Love thinks THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY is terrific.
Stasia Ward Kehoe delves into OUT OF THE EASY.
And learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.