Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books/Alfred A. Knopf
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.
Here’s what I thought:
I picked up this book on a whim after seeing that Jennifer Weiner had recommended it. I didn’t really know much about it but it looked like an interesting read, maybe somewhat in the vein of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. While my initial assumption proved false, I did enjoy the book and it was a quick, easy read.
The story is told from two perspectives–that of Tim, a 17-year-old albino and new student at a New England boarding school, and Duncan, a fellow student whose path crosses Tim’s. The first voice we hear is Tim’s, and it struck me right away that he comes across as very young, much younger than I would have expected a 17-year-old to sound. I think part of this is that he has grown up having few friends and is perhaps lacking in age-appropriate social skills. However, his immaturity made it difficult for me to take Tim seriously as he recounts the story of the “tragedy” of his senior year of high school.
Duncan is hearing Tim’s story at the same time as the reader, as he has been left a series of audio recordings made by Tim at the end of the previous school year. Exactly why Tim chooses Duncan as the person to tell his story to is not clear until much later, but Duncan is soon influenced by what he hears and it inspires him. Through listening to the recordings, both the reader and Duncan learn about a series of events that transpired and which resulted in what Tim and Duncan see as a tragedy–a literary form which they have studied in their senior English class.
I’m not sure how convinced I was by Tim’s story as a example of tragedy. Certainly what happens to him is sad, certainly it is (to an extent) his own fault, but to be honest I found the whole scenario a bit ridiculous. He comes across as being so evidently still a child, and yet none of the adults in his life seem to be looking out for him or holding him responsible. If such serious consequences were possible, surely one of his parents would have made sure he understood the repercussions of his actions, or would have at least made sure that a supervising adult was aware of the situation. Instead, he’s left to fumble around on his own, making bad choices as a result of normal teenage insecurities compounded by the issues he has surrounding his albinism.
This book didn’t end up being what I expected, but you might like it if you’re a fan of young adult literature or interested in the issue of albinism on which it touches.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.
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