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The Tragedy Paper Hardcover – January 8, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Jennifer Weiner & Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan & Jennifer Weiner

This isn't your average Q&A.

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner interviews Young Adult author Elizabeth LaBan—who also happens to be her very good friend! Read on to learn about LaBan’s favorite books, darkest fears, and of course, her January debut, The Tragedy Paper.

Q. Jennifer Weiner: I know you went to a school that’s a lot like the one in the book. How did your own experiences in high school inform the story?

A. Elizabeth LaBan: Quite a bit–I went to a school called Hackley in Tarrytown, New York, for my junior and senior years of high school. It was very different from the schools I had gone to until that point, and it took a little getting used to. By the time I was a senior, probably even sooner than that, I loved it and really felt like a part of the community. But I had no idea how much it stuck in my head until the story of The Tragedy Paper started to unfold. First of all, the jumping off point for the setting was always Hackley. The Irving School is slightly different (there is no tiny round window above the quad at Hackley the way there is in Tim’s and Duncan’s dorm room, for example), but as I created that fictional world, Hackley was at its base. Even more than that, though, the whole idea of the actual tragedy paper assignment–which I wrote as a senior – was truly stuck in my head all this time. It came tumbling out when I wrote the book.

Q. Jennifer Weiner: First novels can tend toward the autobiographical, but this story is told from the point of view of two boys. How hard was it to write from a male point of view?

A. Elizabeth LaBan: First let me say–and you, of course, know this, but other people don’t–this is not the first novel I’ve written, it is the first one that is being published. The first one I wrote–which you have read many times–is about someone who is married to a restaurant critic. That is about as autobiographical as it can get for me. So maybe I got a lot of that out of my system by the time I wrote this book, which is actually my fourth novel.

I didn’t really think that writing from the male point of view was hard. Of all the things I thought about constantly while I was writing The Tragedy Paper, the idea that I was writing from a male perspective wasn’t one of them. When I was writing about Tim and Duncan, I rarely asked myself, what would a boy do in this situation? Instead, I found myself always thinking, what would a teenager say and do? The scenes where I focused most on that issue were when the boys were interacting with each other. From observing my teenage daughter and her friends, I noticed that there is a big difference between the way the girls deal with other girls and the way the boys deal with other boys. Even in the first scene of the book, when Duncan sees Tad for the first time that year, I knew they wouldn’t hug the way girls would. I had to keep those details in mind throughout. While there are clearly great distinctions between boys and girls, they also share a lot of similarities in the way they handle the challenges of adolescence. Young people–boys and girls–have many of the same concerns and obstacles, so when Tim and Duncan were each alone, those were the things I was paying the most attention to.

Q. Jennifer Weiner: What do you like to read? For people who fall in love with your book, what other books would you recommend? And what were your favorite books in high school?

A. Elizabeth LaBan: I read a lot. I’ve been to your events where people ask about getting into writing, and one of your tips is to keep reading. I totally agree with that. So what do I read? I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books lately. I can’t get enough of John Green’s books. I don’t know what I would suggest for people who like my book. Some have compared it to Thirteen Reasons Why and Looking For Alaska. I don’t know if people will agree, but I was thrilled by those connections. I’ve always loved books about teenagers. In high school, I loved S.E. Hinton’s books–particularly The Outsiders and That Was Then This Is Now. I had always fancied the idea of being a writer–really since I can remember–but reading those two books made me want to actually do it.

I also read adult books. I love Scott Spencer, John Irving, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Jane Smiley. I discovered another author I love recently named Liane Moriarty. I loved her last two books–especially What Alice Forgot–and now I plan to go back and read her earlier books. And of course I read every book you write–the minute they come out–or even sooner when you offer me an advance copy.

Q. Jennifer Weiner: Could you give me your list of the 10 things you’re worrying about right now? Bonus points if one of them is the brown recluse spider.

A. Elizabeth LaBan: Did your mother put you up to that question? I know she always gets a kick out of my long list of worries. I’ll give you a sense of the 10 things I’ll probably worry about over the next few weeks–though I don’t mean the really big worries–like that the world will end or there will be a catastrophe. These are my everyday worries:

1) I worry that the tiny bit of raw chicken juice that got on my finger at the store will somehow give my whole family salmonella.

2) I worry that my son didn’t eat the rather chunky soup I packed in his lunch today–and I don’t mean chunky in a good way.

3) I worry that I won’t make my mother’s 82nd birthday festive enough (she is big on festive).

4) I worry that I’ll forget how much I hate swimming in open water and I’ll find myself between two shores with no place to touch down.

5) I worry that I’ll get stuck in an elevator.

6) I worry that the smoke detector in a hotel room might not work–which makes me worry about all the smoke detectors in the whole hotel.

7) I worry that the hamburger my husband had for lunch wasn’t properly cooked.

8) I worry that I will settle in to watch Parenthood (my favorite show!) and a mouse will scurry across the floor and ruin my night.

9) I worry that writing all of these worries down will make them come true.

10) Also, did you say something about a brown recluse spider?!

"The Tragedy Paper" Map

The Tragedy Paper Map

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up-Laban's debut novel (Knopf, 2013) presents the parallel stories of two students at the Irving School: Duncan, a current senior, and Tim Macbeth, an albino teen who transferred to the elite boarding high school mid-semester the previous year. Duncan has been assigned to Tim's old dorm room. According to tradition, Tim left Duncan a treasure to find the first day of class-a set of CDs on which Tim tells Duncan the complete story of his last semester. Duncan only knows the part of the story that involved him. Tim fills in the events from the moment he met Vanessa, a popular and beautiful student at Irving who he met at the airport on the way to school, through their secret romance and the tragic day that changed all of their lives. He does so within the framework of the annual Tragedy Paper that students in Mr. Simon's class must complete. Listeners will be as captivated and disturbed by the revelation of the truth behind Tim's story as Duncan is. The dual narration by Nick Chamian and Jesse Bernstein poignantly and expertly brings to story to life. Their voicing of the characters' emotions is spot-on, and listeners will be drawn into the tale. The transitions between past and present are as stark and dramatic for listeners as they are for Duncan. An intense experience listeners won't soon forget. Give this audio to fans of Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why (Razorbill, 2007).-Stephanie A. Squicciarini, Fairport Public Library, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375870407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375870408
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

ELIZABETH LABAN worked at NBC News, taught at a community college, and has written for several magazines and newspapers. The Tragedy Paper is her first young adult novel. She lives in Philadelphia with her family

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile VINE VOICE on February 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Tragedy Paper was a book that I really wanted to love. It had all the elements of the types of books that tend to draw me in: the closed, high-stakes environment of an elite prep boarding school, a secret that shatters the lives of the characters, and an outcast looking to find his niche. Unfortunately, the story didn't do justice to any of these attributes. Some spoilers to follow.

First, I'll start with the outcast angle--it's not much of an angle at all. Yes, Tim feels like a misfit because he's an albino. The portrayal of his struggles with this were often very interesting, and I could sympathize with his agony over that fact that, no matter how much he wants to just blend in, he never will. There was some good depth to this aspect of the story. However, Tim also doesn't try very hard to become a part of his environment. Instead, he spends the bulk of the book mooning over Vanessa. If he'd been shunned, this might have worked, but the only person who seems actively hostile toward him is Patrick. Other students reach out to Tim, but all he's interested in is obsessing over Vanessa.

As for Patrick...I can feel myself making a face as I write about him. He felt so one dimensional to me, and I could not figure out a single reason why Vanessa might have been attracted to him. For that matter, I couldn't figure out what Vanessa couldn't be honest about how she felt about Tim. The book tries to imply that there's some sort of taboo about the two of them being together, but Tim seems more concerned with his albinism than most of the other characters do. He's the one who tells himself Vanessa can't possibly like him because he's an albino, and I think he does both himself and Vanessa a disservice.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Ken C. on December 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE TRAGEDY PAPER's focus is a love triangle between 17-year-olds at a boarding school. What makes it a rarity in the YA field is how "clean" it is. Anyone reading YA these days knows that, as a genre, young adult literature has grown up and skewed strongly toward more adult themes, language, and issues. Not so with Elizabeth Laban's debut novel. The book is wall to wall free of profanity or R-rated acts of any sort. It's just a straight-out, old-fashioned love story -- with a few quirks.

Quirk #1: It starts and circles back like S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS for no other reason than (according to the afterword) Hinton's book -- another "clean" read, thanks to the era it was written -- is one of Laban's favorites.

Quirk #2: The protagonist is an albino. This reminded me of Palascio's WONDER, in a way. Obviously the characters here are much older, but still, Tim Macbeth (I kid you not) stands out like a white light that draws stares from all around. He is another case of a "marked man" in the lead, against all odds.

Quirk #3: THE TRAGEDY PAPER is a book within a book. It's mostly about Tim's love for a girl named Vanessa, who happens to be attached to that predictable YA staple, the most handsome and athletic popular jock in the school (here named Patrick). But Tim's entire narrative is told, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY-like, via tape (CDs in this case). The listener? A new senior named Duncan (again, I kid you not), a year on the heels of the triangular leads, who listens to the recordings because he happens to get Tim's room from the fateful year before. Neatly enough, he, like Tim, has a romantic interest he is pursuing.

Quirk #4: The book seems to be contemporary, yet reflects little of its time in history and how modern teens' lifestyles are today.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kathy Cunningham TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At its core, Elizabeth LaBan's THE TRAGEDY PAPER is a coming-of-age tale very much like A SEPARATE PEACE - two teenage boys wrestle with such things as love, loyalty, fear, and insecurity at a prestigious prep school. What sets THE TRAGEDY PAPER apart is how its story is told. Seventeen-year-old Duncan Meade begins his senior year at the Irving School with a mixture of anxiety and excitement - he gets to live in the cool "senior dorm," with the best view on campus, he gets to find out what his "treasure" will be (all Irving graduates leave something special for the rising seniors who will be moving into their rooms in the fall), and he gets to plan the Game (sort of a glorified "senior prank," one of the school's traditions). But something happened the year before, near the end of Duncan's junior year, which makes him uncertain about how his senior year will go. And then there's the Tragedy Paper, a year-long project assigned by the Senior English teacher, which is never far from Duncan's mind. So we get Duncan's story (he loves pretty Daisy, but can't quite bring himself to let her know, and he can't get whatever happened last year out of his mind) and we get Tim Macbeth's story. Tim, a reclusive albino who spent only one semester at Irving, lived in Duncan's room the year before. And he leaves Duncan a very unusual "treasure" - a set of CDs on which he has recorded everything that happened leading up to the mysterious event that colored Duncan's junior year. Duncan begins listening to Tim's story, and he becomes quickly engrossed. And so do the readers.Read more ›
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