From the moment I read the press release, The Tragedy Paper intrigued me. I love stories set in boarding schools, perhaps it’s the part of me that has never grown past devouring Enid Blyton books, and The Tragedy Paper had been compared to one of my favourite non YA books, The Secret History, in some reviews so I knew I had to read it plus I had never read a book with an albino narrator before in YA.
Tim Macbeth is seventeen, an albino and about to start at the Irving School, when on the way he meets Vanessa and begins to fall for her. Duncan is a senior assigned to the same room as Tim one year later who is left to unravel Tim’s story while surviving his own senior year. The narrative alternates between the two and both stories share common themes and intersect in their own ways as events subtly mirror one another’s experiences.
Irving School is as much a character as Duncan or Tim. Steeped in tradition, and described vividly, I can see why people have compared this to the Secret History. I loved the idea that departing seniors leave a gift for the new inhabitant of their room when they leave, and some of the rumours and stories of what had been left. It is not a spoiler to reveal that Tim leaves Duncan his story, told on CDs, and offers him what can be his tragedy paper. However it is not just this that brings the school to life, but the teachers. In particular, Mr Simon, who takes a place as one of my favourite YA teachers to date. Full of character and wanting to bring out the best in his students through the Tragedy Paper, I loved the scenes between him and Duncan.
Laban has mentioned that she was heavily inspired by the Outsiders by S E Hinton as a writer and this is the book that made her want to write YA (something I feel the same about personally!) and you can see ghosts of the Outsiders in her work, from the opening sentence and ending homage.
I think the only downside to this book is that it isn’t particularly fast paced. I also felt that Duncan’s story faded slightly in the middle, especially with regards to Daisy, compared to Tim however the final fifth of the novel with Duncan was a brilliant read and incredibly emotional in places. It is more of a literary novel than a thriller and I think this will divide readers who want ‘more’ to happen in a novel. However, for fans of the traditional boarding school or college literary novel, I think this transfer to YA works well and is an enjoyable read.
The Tragedy Paper is available to buy now and I received a free review copy from Random House Children’s Publishers for my honest review. As always, receiving a review copy does not affect my opinion on a book or the tone of my review.