’’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 and desperately Needs More Love.
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.
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)
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."
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.
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?”
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.
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...
The Heart: It turns out Skippy was this, as his group of friends drift apart after he dies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.