Five Media Challenge – YA TragiComedies

My genre selection is TragiComedy, which would be defined by materials that include a central theme that is tragic, but is told in a humorous way. There are many books that might be considered drama or “trouble novels,” that also include some humor – they would have a lot of humor interwoven into the story to be considered a tragicomedy.

There are many books – including some where I study, at the Queens College Library, that discuss the etymology of the genre. Many of these books reference back as far as Virgil’s Aeneid (29-19 BC), to Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1320 (there is a graphic novel version from Seymour Chwast, who also created graphic novels of The Canterbury Tales and Homer’s Odyssey), and onward to Shakespeare in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. Others discuss a more modern application, married with existentialism – by way of playwright Harold Pinter – whose early plays were called “comedy of menace,”  and the classic – Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Pinter referenced Beckett as a heavy influence on his own work.

Following is a starter set; a primer list of books that have a very serious theme, and a great deal of humor or absurdity throughout the story.

Five-ish Selections:

9780385733977_custom-cfc9293977b08e01dc3544a80ca718a358663034-s400-c85.jpgGoing Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Delacorte Books for Young Reader, 2009; 480 pages.

About a year ago, I watched this Geoff Herbach interview where he said Going Bovine was one of the funniest books he’s ever read (at 5:05 in the video, but the entire short video is worth watching). Since I like his writing, I added Going Bovine to my list and read it over the summer. And he was right – it’s really funny, and very tragic. As an aside, Geoff is the author of Stupid Fast, an outstanding coming-of-age, sports YA book.


16 year old Cameron is diagnosed with mad cow disease, and is going to die from it. What I assume are hallucinations lead him on a crazy mental road trip with outrageous characters and events – in what Cam thinks is a journey toward his cure. Bittersweet, tragic, and funny.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic26135825.jpg
Author: Alison Bechdel
Mariner Books, 2007; 232pages.

I saw the Broadway play first and was emotionally volleyed between funny and tragic from the start. The play had the added benefit of songs to create levity and enhance moments in Alison’s life – such as the wonderful “Ring of Keys” (this video from the 2015 Tony Awards).


This graphic memoir centers around the tragedy of Alison’s father’s suicide, but is full of funny and endearing vignettes about discovering sexuality, coming out, and growing up with a gay father (but not really knowing it until just before his death by suicide, when Alison has just started college). And the perfect setting is growing up in a “fun”eral home that they refer to as Fun Home. Sad, poignant, painful, and yes – funny. To be fair, the play is funnier than the graphic novel.

4953.jpgA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Author: Dave Eggers
Vintage, 2000; 485 pages.

I was reminded of this memoir/autobiography while looking through a list of books on under the title of “50 Novels to Read When You Need a Good Laugh.”


So tragic. Dave and his three siblings lose both of their parents to cancer in the same month. Dave was 21 years old when this happened, and is left to reconcile the loss of his parents while raising his 8 year old brother Toph. How can you not believe that life is absurd, when this is your reality? Truly a tragic story, told from the perspective of a 21 year old young adult – which means that it’s infused with humor, anger, ridiculous situations, and recklessness.

1428925640431[1].jpgThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007; 230 pages.

I discovered this book when I read this amazing Wall Street Journal article by the author, Sherman Alexie. He talks about why it is important – even critical – for him to write books for teens, and how those books need to speak to the struggles and resiliency of those teens.


Junior is willing to struggle to make sure he breaks away from the patterns he sees on his Spokane Indian Reservation. It is never easy – every day is a struggle, and he still has to face the stresses that exist for his family on “the rez,” but he leaves his school to attend an all-white high school about 20 miles away.  If you need to be reminded how strong teens can be, read this book. Junior manages to endure, all the while showing kindness, grace and humor.


The final selections were chosen using recommendations from my Queens College class on Young Adult Materials as a resource. Remember to ask your librarian for recommendations – one of the many ways in which they can help you! These 3 books are on my winter break reading list!

From Jessica:
12700353.jpgMe and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews

Harry N. Abrams, 2012, 295 pages.

What’s so funny about leukemia? This book, that’s what. Greg and Earl are film-making high school friends. Greg’s mom makes him reconnect with his childhood friend Rachel, who has a terminal illness. Says Jessica: “both the book and movie, have real moments of humor while ultimately being a tragedy.” Check them both out!


From Rafael:
33456.jpgA Dirty Job
Author: Christopher Moore
William Morrow, 2006, 387 pages.

Death everywhere Charlie turns. You could call that tragic. Why is it happening? He’s just an average family man… or is he? That’s where the comedy comes in!


From Damla:

My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece
Author: Annabel Pitcher
Orion Publishing Group, 2011, 240 pages.

The loss of a child can tear a family apart. Ten year-old Jamie is trying to keep it together, and make sense of what his family has become five years after his sister died in the London bombings that killed 62 people – his sister Rose was the youngest victim of that bombing. Jamie was only 5 when she died, so he’s trying to understand how his life and family got to where they are now.


Other resources for tragicomedy materials:

Alibris – aLibris has a category for tragicomedy books, but you cannot filter the list for YA selections.

Toronto Public Library allows results for tragicomedy, but, again, does not filter for YA selections (even when using the Advanced Search fields).

IMBD has a user-created movie list called “Best Tragicomedy’s (comedy -drama).” The selections are very good, and fit the genre well.

Project Gutenberg has a grouping of tragicomedy books (mostly by William Shakespeare)


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