Magan: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

book cover for The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (twitter)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 312
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: albino character, boarding school, dual perspective
Format Read: Purchased eBook for my kindle

Summary: Duncan unravels the mystery of Tim’s relationship with Vanessa (and their mysterious tragedy) through a series of recordings left behind for Duncan at the beginning of Duncan’s senior year.

Where, oh where, to begin? I’m full of bumbling thoughts about The Tragedy Paper and quite unsure how to best share them with you guys because I’m uncertain if my words are going to be sufficient enough to describe what an incredible read this was.

*deep breath*

The Tragedy Paper is told, essentially, from two perspectives. Tim is perpetually the misfit at every school he has attended because his skin color and hair were different, so his stepfather recommends that he spend the final semester of his senior year at the Irving School because it was where he”found himself” as a student. Tim’s an incredibly smart guy, but no one really gives him the time of day; he doesn’t believe he fits within the confines of the social norm because he’s albino. An accidental run-in before the semester begins with one of the school’s most popular girls, Vanessa, really affects the effort he puts into making friends and putting himself out there. Instead of doing so, he becomes infatuated with this girl despite feeling like he has zero chance of his affection ever being reciprocated.

Upon graduating from the Irving School, seniors leave behind something special for the next year’s seniors to find in their rooms on move-in day. Tim passes along a set of recordings to Duncan and encourages him to listen to his story about an event that occurred the year before. While we’re mostly in present day with Duncan, learning about him as he begins dating someone he’s had his eye on and figuring out that he, too, is essentially a social outcast, readers spend the majority of the book with Duncan, locked in his room as he listens to Tim tell his story through the recordings.

LaBan did an incredible job balancing the back and forth between Duncan and Tim, though I did find myself shaking my fist at the book a time or two because JUST as I felt a big discovery was to be unveiled, the perspective would switch. (Tricky, tricky — of course this kept me up well past my bedtime a time or two.) The setting felt so incredibly perfect for this time of year, too. I was reading The Tragedy Paper on some of the coldest days Texas has seen and it couldn’t have felt more right to be bundled up in blankets as Tim wandered through the snow with Vanessa.

But maybe most striking was the dialogue about Tim. Tim, the albino guy who won’t take care of himself because he is afraid to stand out even more. Tim, the guy who doesn’t think he’s good enough to have someone fall in love with him. The guy who will forget he has a backbone because he’s receiving a bit of recognition from someone popular. Despite the physical differences that may be between Tim and myself, I felt so connected to him because so many times have I felt unworthy of the attention and love I’ve received, even if my doubts were for different reasons.

All of that is to say, I haven’t even begun to mention how strong The Tragedy Paper is from a literary point of view. There’s this incredible focus on what a tragedy is in the senior English class; the students must write a thesis that unpacks their understanding of tragedy. The way this is woven into Tim and Duncan’s stories was remarkable. Really, it just blew me away.

The Tragedy Paper is full of so many strengths: solid writing, a gripping story, a school I wish I’d attended, and characters I felt so incredibly tied to. SURELY this is reason enough for you to pick up this book immediately.

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book cover for Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Magan: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

book cover for Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Major cover love for this book!

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 256
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: first love, first jobs, feminism
Format read: ARC from NetGalley.

Summary: Amelia, 15, takes a job at her local supermarket to earn extra money where she meets Chris, 21, and subsequently develops more-than-friends feelings for him. To pass the time at the grocery store, they discuss books, life, and the inequalities of women.

 

 

Have you ever read a book where you thought maybe the book was so good you couldn’t do it justice when you wrote your review? I immediately texted Estelle when I finished Love and Other Perishable Items because I didn’t know how to put my thoughts and feelings into words. Could I possibly convince you that this book is amazing? Buzo’s writing is so incredibly thorough – I’m not sure my review even begins to do it justice. More mature audiences would enjoy this book, somewhat because of content – drinking, sex, drugs, but mostly because it led me to do a considerable amount of contemplating. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys thinking beyond what’s written on the page.

Growing up, I remember being attracted to the older guys — they were wiser, more mature, and could hold a conversation with me that lasted longer than a few minutes. They captivated me and more often than not, my parents didn’t allow me to pursue relationships with said guys because they were “too mature” for me. Womp womp womp.

In Love and Other Perishable Items, Amelia takes a job at a local grocery store. During her training, she’s assigned to a store veteran, Chris, who is to show her the ropes and explain the job to her. A friendship is sparked from the very beginning – despite the fact that Amelia is 15 and Chris is 21. Amelia is a very mature teenager and her feelings quickly develop into lustful ones. Chris admires how Amelia over-analyzes everything – he’s amused and entertained by her. He provides a listening ear for all the things that absorb Amelia’s mind.

Amelia tells the overarching storyline in a mostly chronological sequence of events. Her story is written in first person and composes most of the story, but the interesting addition is how Chris is incorporated. He and Amelia bond over literature and the books she’s given as required reading at school; he is an English major in college. Because he’s a writer, his story is written as a series of journal entries. They are piecer and often fill in the gaps for Amelia’s narration. The combination of getting the larger picture and seeing sub-stories and another character’s perspective provided a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of Chris and Amelia’s relationship.

Chris and Amelia are two observant, albeit sometimes cynical, characters who love dissecting the world and books. Feminism plays a tremendous role in Love and Other Perishable Items. Amelia struggles with her family dynamics – a mother who is constantly worn down and left with little time for herself while her father often seems distant and very self-involved, never lending a helping hand at home. She views their relationship as unfair and struggles to understand the prejudices and responsibilities placed on women. She fights to understand how women have worked so hard to gain independence and equality and yet, we seem more overworked than ever. I, personally, really enjoyed these discussions between Amelia and Chris — it evoked contemplation and reflection upon my own marriage. Did I agree with Amelia and were those things she disliked so much happening in my very own home? (I have to say I’m a lucky gal with a husband who kindly does his fair share of work around the house.)

Chris and Amelia’s relationship is a very complex one. Chris has hesitations because of Amelia’s age and she has hope that he can see beyond the number. Buzo beautifully explores what it’s like to feel like you’ve met your soul mate, but for things to realistically be complicated and impossible. How it feels to fall in love for the very first time with someone who seems so out of reach. I met my husband when I was 16 years old and he was 20. While there were certainly hesitations on my parents behalf, here we are nearly 11 years later (happily married for 8). My personal story gave me hope for Amelia and Chris.

Love and Other Perishable Items is unlike any other young adult book I’ve read this year. In the time since I read this book, the story has marinated and become that much more rich and flavorful. It’s engaging and refreshing, explorative and thought-provoking. As soon as I turned the final page, I wanted to flip to the beginning for a re-read because I wanted to adequately appreciate all the intricacies of Buzo’s incredible writing.

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