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November 2017

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The Tragedy Paper, Elizabeth Laban

tragedypaper

The title of this book has a double meaning. The Tragedy Paper is a compulsory assignment for all English seniors at the prestigious Irving School; it’s set and marked each year by the charismatic Mr Simon. There has also been a real life tragedy of some sort, played out in the previous year, which is a mystery for most of the book. To flag this up, the first narrator is called Duncan; the second, ‘the albino kid’ who has now left school, is Tim Macbeth.

Duncan arrives at school for the new term still haunted by what happened a year ago. He finds that his new room was previously occupied by Tim. It’s a school tradition that students who’ve graduated leave behind a ‘treasure’ in their room for the next guy. Duncan’s treasure turns out to be a set of CDs on which Tim has recorded his account of the terrible events. Duncan gets so drawn into the story of Tim, his relationship with the lovely Vanessa and her appalling jock boyfriend, that he starts to neglect his work and his own girl, Daisy.

To Duncan’s horror, he finds that he is the senior responsible for this year’s traditional ‘Game’. He remembers last year’s events so vividly, remembers ‘the blood in the snow’, so this responsibility becomes almost too much for him. By the time he’s heard the whole of Tim’s story, he’s practically a wreck but is saved by confiding in Daisy and in Mr Simon.

The school motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim finds Vanessa, Duncan has Daisy and his mate Tad but both boys are isolated. What happened to Tim and Vanessa is sad, but is it a tragedy? Duncan tries to work this out in his paper. My only criticism is that there’s not quite enough about school; the students seem to spend all their time eating and hanging out, rather than having lessons. I still liked this book very much; it’s like The Secret History for young teens, and that’s high praise, as I love that book.

The Tragedy Paper will be published by Random House on Jan 8, 2013. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

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