Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

Title: The Tragedy Paper 
Author: Elizabeth LaBan 
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: eARC
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from January 4 to 6, 2013
My rating: 3 stars: I like it (2.5)
Summary: Tim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. 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, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher. The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa’s story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving’s history. 

Sometimes it's hard, impossible even, to know how much magnitude a choice holds until it is all over. 

Duncan Meade enters the Irving School a senior this year. As a school tradition, each senior gets their own dorm room without having to share it with anyone. On the first day of school, each senior will go to the senior hall and find their room; and in the room, there will be "treasures" left behind for them from the previous senior who lived there. Duncan has one fear: he is afraid to find out if the smallest room in the hall belongs to him. And of course, it does. The treasures the previous owner, Tim Macbeth, leaves behind for Duncan is a note and a stack of CDs. Those CDs play the recordings of Tim's story for Duncan as the "meat of your Tragedy Paper," which is the Irving School's senior English paper to be handed in at the end of the school year.

The Tragedy Paper started out, for me, as intriguing; I was curious to see how the connection between Tim Macbeth and Duncan Meade would play out. Would it be, you know, like Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Macbeth kills Duncan? Or would Tim Macbeth share the same tragic flaw with Macbeth, and Duncan the receiving end of that flaw like King Duncan? Or what? Of course, I was expecting the use of these two names to have some significance. I have been taught in Literature class that a text alludes to something like this, it is saying something implicitly, and you should find what it infers. But it looks like this book falls flat in that department, because as far as I know, the only function of this allusion is only to tell the reader: Hey! This book is a tragedy because its two main characters are named after the two in Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth! Hmm. Right now, in my head, I can even see my beloved Lit teacher hold up her index finger in a warning manner, and hear her say her favorite disapproval: "Nonono."

Again, I don't seem to share everyone (who's read it)'s enthusiasm about this book. Some say that it's "deep" and "profound," but I honestly don't see how that can be. It's not like I suck that much at reading between the lines and critical thinking; how about it's just meh? 90% of the book is about Tim told, narrated by Tim's recordings which Duncan listens to; while Duncan's part takes up only about 10%. And this makes me wonder why it has to be written this way. Not only does it bother me that the book doesn't just simply tell Tim's story--which already is the focus, if not the entire meat, of this story--it has to have Duncan as a medium (why bother?), but it also irritates me that, knowing very well Duncan's function is only to hang around and play the CDs so we can listen to them as well, the book tries so hard to have Tim affect his romantic life--in a way trying to make a connection between them when it's strained and uncalled for. If there'd been some believable and close connection between them for the recordings to have their natural effects, I would've believed it and appreciated it more.

In the end, I'll say that The Tragedy Paper is not a bad book, but there are a lot of things that I personally didn't like. The ending, for instance, felt too contrived in the way that it is steered into a tragedy pattern, which I understand since I get it, the point is that this book is a tragedy; but I still didn't like it that much. And the effects Tim's story has on Duncan are to me a little too unbelievable. I'd love for it to have more substance, and if the switching between two points of view is going to be this unbalanced and the connection this strained, how about no switching at all? I'd be happy to read Tim's story alone as the whole book without Duncan having a voice in part. That's just me. For the most part, I enjoyed Tim's story and wanted to see how it was tragic and how it would end, but once I did, I felt greatly underwhelmed. Still, as I said, it's not a bad book. It has good potentials but it's just not my cup of tea. 2.5 stars.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.

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