Literature / Skippy Dies

"Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair".
Opening lines

On one seemingly normal night, fourteen-year-old Daniel “Skippy” Juster suddenly drops dead in the middle of a donut-eating contest with his best friend. The novel opens with this scene, and then rewinds to a few months before to explore the circumstances leading up to it. Who was Skippy? What was his life like? How did he die, and just who was responsible? As the story of Skippy’s final days are told, we see how his life was intertwined with the lives of his friends, teachers, and many others in his community; and the impact his mysterious death has on them in its aftermath.

Written by Paul Murray and published February 4, 2010, this novel perfectly combines tragedy and comedy, but is not very well known.

Tropes present in Skippy Dies include:

  • Abusive Parents: Jeekers’ parents are implied to be emotionally abusive, as they put enormous pressure on him to succeed and berate him harshly if he fails.
  • Adorkable: Skippy.
  • Adult Fear: Skippy is just fourteen years old, and he killed himself because he had a lot of problems he was afraid to talk to his father about, since he didn’t want to do anything else to upset him when he was already dealing with his wife’s cancer. After his death, his father realizes this and laments that he made his son unable to get help from him.
  • Adults Are Useless: None of the adults are able to help the kids very much with their problems. In fact, some of them make it worse, intentionally or not.
    • The school therapist, Father Foley, in particular, really sucks at his job. It may be because he's getting older, but it's implied that he was always that ineffectual and no one else cared enough to do anything.
  • Affably Evil: Barry. In his first scene, he's forcing a younger student to bring him and Carl his prescription pills for them to snort, and when the kid protests, Barry (who is kneeling on his arms to pin him down) has Carl burn his feet with a lighter and spray can. The entire time, he talks gently and calmly.
  • Agent Mulder: Geoff to Ruprecht’s Agent Scully (and vice versa)
  • Alliterative Name: Carl Cullen and Barry Barnes.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Specifically mentioned by Dennis as the reason Lori would go out with Carl. In his words, "The more of an asshole a guy is, the more girls he's got lining up to give him blowjobs. It's a scientific fact."
  • Always Second Best: Jeekers to Ruprecht.
  • Alpha Bitch: Lori and Janine.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Some characters’ points of view (namely Carl’s and Skippy’s) are written so surreally that you can’t figure out what’s happening completely until it’s stated more clearly later. Averted with other characters who view the world much more mundanely, such as Howard.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: More like anguished realization of love - Lori only realizes that she did love Skippy after she's driven him to suicide and her life has gone to shit.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Carl, of all people, has a VillainousBSOD after Skippy’s death.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: “You asshole, what is it you even want to say to Skippy? What do you have to say that you couldn’t have said before, if you hadn’t been too busy trying to prove what a great scientist you were?”
  • Asshole Victim: Lori.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Kelly Ann seems to think so.
  • Betty and Veronica: Skippy is the Betty to Carl's Veronica, for Lori's Archie.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lori, Janine, and Greg Costigan all qualify.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Boarding School: Seabrook College.
  • Breaking Speech: Dennis gives one to Ruprecht, Geoff, and Mario and Costigan gives one to Howard in the third volume.
  • The Bully: Carl and Barry, Carl in particular. Siddartha and Garrett from the swim team are more low-key, but still qualify.
  • Cannot Talk to Women: Skippy, when he first tries to speak to Lori.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Mario, full stop.
  • Chocolate of Romance: Skippy brings a box of chocolates to his date with Lori, but since she's on a diet, she's not interested in them.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Geoff.
  • Comfort Food: Ruprecht eats more donuts than ever after Skippy’s death, so they’re likely this for him.
  • Concert Climax: The climax involves Ruprecht, Dennis, Geoff, and Jeekers using Ruprecht's invention combined with Lori's singing to try and get a message to Skippy at the school concert.
  • Consummate Liar: Greg Costigan, a lot.
  • Covered in Scars: Carl cuts both his arms until there's no skin left on them, just cuts. He did this because he was bored.
  • The Cynic: Dennis.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When Carl finds out about Lori seeing Skippy and not him, he doesn’t take it well.
  • Date Rape: Carl goes to the Hop specifically to drug Lori’s drink and do this. Thankfully, she’s already snuck out with Skippy.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: It’s heavily implied that this is a big part of why Lori goes out with Carl.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dennis has his moments.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Near the end of the book, Carl seems to think so.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Subverted. Even after Skippy's death, Carl still has no chance of getting together with Lori.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: Skippy challenges Carl to a one-on-one fight and wins by getting a lucky hit right to Carl’s glass jaw.
  • Destructive Romance: The Skippy-Lori-Carl love triangle, for all three of them.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Skippy dies in Zhang Xielin’s arms.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Mario and Ruprecht have snuck into St. Brigid's and realizes that they forgot the drill they need to get into the room they were looking for -
    Mario: I thought you said you planned this.
    Ruprecht: I did. It's just that I made the plan before I knew what was going to happen.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Mario attempting to give Skippy a good pickup line prompts this:
    Mario: When I see a chick I want to score, I go up to her and say, 'Pardon me, you are stepping on my dick.'
    *Quizzical looks*
    Mario: Because my dick is so long, you see, that it comes all the way down my trousers and out onto the floor.
    Dennis: Let me give you some advice, Skippy - never, ever do anything Mario tells you. Ever.
    • He gets in another one when bragging about how many women he's supposedly had:
    Mario: Cinema is good. I have been on many dates in the cinema - but I have not seen very many films! Because I was having sex. In the cinema.
  • Doorstopper: It’s 661 pages long.
  • Downer Beginning: The first chapter describes Skippy’s sudden death and his best friend Ruprecht’s reaction in detail.
  • Driven to Suicide: How Skippy dies. Carl was later driven to this after his hallucinations and possible Heel Realization makes him think he has to die to prove his love to Lori, but implied to have been saved from the fire by Howard. Towards the end of the book, Lori contemplates suicide as well to escape what her life’s become, but decides that she will live to see the good in the world.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Howard after Halley leaves him.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Skippy's last acts before dying were to write 'TELL LORI' on the floor in icing, and nod when the people present guess it means "Tell Lori I love her."
  • Embarrassing Nickname: The Seabrook students give insulting nicknames to most of their teachers. Notable ones include Howard the Coward for Howard and Pere Vert for French teacher Father Green.
  • Enraged by Idiocy: Near the beginning of the third volume, Dennis is enraged at Ruprecht's denial that Skippy is gone for good, which he sees as idiocy.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The book has a character named Skippy who dies, so you can't fault it for false advertising.
  • Extreme Doormat: People tend to walk all over Skippy.
  • Famous Last Words: The last words Skippy says before he dies are, “Well, maybe it’s my lucky day.” This is after he’s already overdosed on pills and has less than a half hour to live.
  • Fat Best Friend: Ruprecht is this to Skippy.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Costigan.
  • Fired Teacher: Howard ends up fired towards the end of the book.
  • First Love: Lori is Skippy's. She turns out to be his last and only.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Mentioned by Father Foley to Ruprecht’s parents.
  • Forgiveness: At the end of the book, Ruprecht is implied to have forgiven Lori for her role in Skippy’s death.
  • Friend to Psychos: Barry seems to be a Type I in his friendship with Carl.
  • Freudian Excuse: Carl is a cruel, drug-dealing psychopath, but it’s heavily implied that he is the way he is because of his toxic home life.
  • Genius Sweet Tooth: Ruprecht seems to have one.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Skippy.
  • Gossipy Hens: Howard describes some of the teachers at Seabrook like this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: When Carl hears that Lori is going out with Skippy and not him, he immediately hates the poor kid and swears revenge.
  • Grief Song: “I wish you were beside me, just so I could let you know...I wish you were beside me, I would never let you go...”
  • Happy Flashback: Skippy has a brief one to when he was younger and his mother wasn’t sick yet.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In-universe. Not that this was lighthearted to begin with, but at Skippy’s funeral, among other insults, a drunken Farley says all Tom Roche can think about is “boys in their pretty little swimming togs,” which makes Tom lose it and attack him. Once it’s revealed that Roche molested Skippy, which was a part of why he committed suicide, that becomes a lot worse.
    • When Father Green asks Skippy if he's a virgin and Skippy says "I don't know," it's because his swimming coach molested him.
    • Farley did this unintentionally one other time before that:
    Tom Roche: Busy day. Trying to finalize the arrangements for the swimming trip. Ten boys, the nearest hotel only has four rooms.
    Farley: Pile 'em all into bed with you. Keep you all warm on these cold winter nights.'
    Tom Roche: *tonelessly* That's hilarious. That's very, very funny.
    • When Skippy's walking down the street, someone from a fundraiser shoves a donation bucket in his face saying brightly, "Help fight cancer!" Skippy's mother is suffering from severe cancer, and dealing with that is causing him a lot of suffering he internalizes.
    • A lot of moments can hurt on a second read knowing what Tom did to Skippy. Like these:
    Dennis: *teasingly* [Father Foley] wants to take you away from Father Green, doesn't he? He wants you all to himself...
    Siddartha: Coach never should have picked you. You're his little bum-chum, that's the only reason.
  • The Heart: It turns out Skippy was this, as his group of friends drift apart after he dies.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Ruprecht has one after Skippy’s death.
  • High-School Dance: The Halloween Hop.
  • Hot Teacher: Aurelie.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Many people have this reaction when things start falling apart at Seabrook after Skippy dies.
  • Hypocrite: Costigan. In spades.
  • I Call Him "Mr. Happy": The first joke in the book:
    Dennis: Sir, Mario calls his wang Il Duce.
    Mario: Sir!
    Howard: Dennis.
    Dennis: But he does - you do, I've heard you.'Time to rise, Duce,' you say. 'Your people await you, Duce.'
  • I'll Kill You!: A scary one from Carl to Skippy after the latter challenges him to a fight. He leans in close and whispers softly in Skippy’s ear, “You faggot, I am going to kill you.”
  • I Miss Mom: Most of Skippy’s thoughts about his cancer-afflicted mother, who he never gets to speak to or interact with anymore, are along these lines.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dennis.
  • Karma Houdini: Greg Costigan, Aurelie, and Tom Roche get no comeuppance for anything they did.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Howard finds this out when he is forced to agree with the public story that Father Green molested Skippy and keep the secret that it was actually Tom Roche who did it or lose his teaching job and have his life ruined by Costigan.
    • He finds out earlier than that - he is eaten up with guilt after he cheats on Halley with Aurelie.
  • Killing Intent: Skippy realizes Carl has this towards him literally the second before their fight begins.
  • Kill the Cutie: Skippy is Adorkable as hell, and he dies in the first chapter.
  • Lack of Empathy: Carl seems to be this way.
  • Last Request: “Tell Lori he loves her! Oh my god!”
  • Liar Revealed: Ruprecht claims that he transferred to Seabrook from a prestigious private school after the deaths of his parents, a wealthy baron and his wife. He is revealed to have made up the whole thing when his parents - who are really plumbers - are called to the school to discuss Ruprecht’s behavior after Skippy’s death.
  • Literary Allusion: Other than the obvious in-universe examples, Lorelei is named after a siren in German mythology who would lure fishermen with her singing and then kill them.
  • Longing for Fictionland: Skippy with his video game, Hopeland.
  • Love at First Sight: Skippy becomes obsessed with Lori the instant he sees her. Carl experiences something more like Lust at First Sight with her.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: In Carl’s case, love makes you crazier than usual.
  • Love Triangle: Skippy, Lori, and Carl.
  • Lust Object: What Carl sees Lori as.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Averted. It turns out Ruprecht's machines aren't magical after all and he'll never bring Skippy back to life.
  • Mirthless Laughter: When Howard comes back to his car (accompanied by Aurelie) and sees that the students covered his car in feathers as a prank, he laughs mirthlessly to cover up his embarrassment.
    • Carl does a scary version when he sees that Skippy is serious about fighting him. He is laughing because he finds it funny, but the way he does it makes it sound wrong and inhuman, like "a robot that laughs without knowing why things are funny."
  • Missing Mom: Technically, Skippy’s mother isn’t dead or gone, but her suffering from severe cancer and never being well enough to even speak to him anymore creates the same effect.
  • Motor Mouth: One of the school's teachers, Motor Mouth Thompson.
  • My Greatest Failure: Howard regards letting Tom take the bungee jump in his place, which ended up causing Tom’s life-ruining injuries, as this.
  • The Needs of the Many: Costigan justifies keeping Roche’s molesting Skippy, which was part of what drove him to suicide, covered up to maintain Seabrook’s good reputation this way. It’s heavily implied that the school covers up anything like this that happens as much as they can, and justifies it with this trope.
  • Never Live It Down: In-universe example. Howard feels this way towards his aforementioned Greatest Failure.
  • Nice Guy: Skippy.
  • No Sense of Humor: Carl is implied to be like this.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: Mario seems to think this.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Skippy is killed off literally in the title.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lori has this reaction just before going rightfully berserk on Carl when she realizes he is filming her giving him a blowjob and is sending out the video. She also has this reaction when she mistakenly believes she’s gotten pregnant because of it.
    • Skippy's thoughts when he sees Carl's Killing Intent the second before their fight begins.
  • One-Gender School: Seabrook and St. Brigid’s.
  • Overprotective Dad: Lori’s father, Gavin, shows signs of this. Though considering his daughter and her taste in men, it’s probably justified.
  • Pedophile Priest: Some of Father Green’s inner monologue implies that he molested children in Africa while there as a missionary. He lusts after Skippy, but never actually molests him. His coach Tom Roche, however...
  • Poisonous Friend: Janine is one to both Carl and Lori.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Carl and Barry are both racist, sexist bastards. Lori also has a moment of this when she suggests she and Carl play a cruel, racist prank on Zhang.
  • Posthumous Character: Skippy dies in the first chapter of the first volume. The rest of the first and all of the second rewind to the time before his death.
  • Pushover Parents: Carl’s mother is hinted to be like this, and his father doesn’t seem to care enough about his son to discipline him.
  • The Quiet One: Skippy.
  • Rich Bitch: Lori.
  • Sadist Teacher: Father Green.
  • Spoiler Title: A deliberate example.
  • Stepford Smiler: After Skippy’s death, Lori becomes a Type A.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Carl is one to Lori.
  • Sudden Principled Stand: Howard gives one in the third volume when he’s had enough of Costigan’s immorality and decides to stop being his usual spineless self.
  • The Sociopath: Carl.
  • Tears of Remorse: Carl of all people has these when he decides to let himself die in the fire to make up for what he’s done.
    • Lori also has these when, after Skippy dies, she realizes that she did love him after all.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Carl is a sadistic, remorseless beast, and while his age is never directly stated he’s implied to be somewhere from 15 to 17 years old.
  • Teen Genius: Ruprecht.
  • Teen Pregnancy: A minor subplot is Titch accidentally getting Kelly Ann pregnant.
    • After giving Carl a blowjob in which he forces her to swallow, Lori mistakenly thinks she's gotten pregnant. She hasn't, obviously, but it's what makes her panic, starve herself with diet pills to try and end the pregnancy, and end up anorexic.
  • Troubled Child: Skippy.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Costigan’s taking over the running of Seabrook is played somewhat like this.
  • Unreliable Narrator: With all the POV switching, this happens often.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: After Skippy dies, Carl has one that is specifically stated to mirror Ruprecht’s HeroicBSOD.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Carl lurks around Lori’s house in several scenes, and is heavily implies to have slashed the tires of Skippy’s bike when Lori invites him over.
  • Vomit Chain Reaction: Happens when someone spikes the punch at the Halloween Hop.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Skippy’s group of friends (Ruprecht, Mario, Dennis, and Geoff) quickly start to become hostile to each other after his death. During a fight between Dennis and Geoff, they are even described as having “the enmity that can only exist between former friends.”
  • Would Hit a Girl: Carl actually fantasizes about beating up Lori for not doing what he says.
  • You Are Not Alone: Lori and Ruprecht’s conversation at the end of the book has shades of this.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Howard's dissatisfaction with his life with Halley leads him to sleep with Aurelie (who was in turn cheating on her own fiancé by doing so). This loses Howard both women, but Aurelie gets off scot-free and goes to pursue a happy life with her oblivious fiancé.
    • Carl’s father cheats on his wife with several younger women and then violently denies it every time she tries to call him out on it.