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Literature / Skippy Dies

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"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.

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.
  • 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. A lot of the tragedy of the book comes from how the adult characters repeatedly miss opportunities to help Skippy or figure out what's going on with him.
    • 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.
  • Agent Mulder: Geoff is always uncritically enthusiastic about Ruprecht's wild ideas.
  • 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."
  • All Men Are Perverts: All the Seabrook boys are talking about or thinking about sex or watching porn pretty much constantly. The adults aren't much better; many of the teachers such as Howard, Tom, and Father Green, in the past allow their sexual desire to keep them from protecting the students' well-being.
  • Always Second Best: Jeekers to Ruprecht. When Ruprecht loses it after Skippy dies and starts under performing academically, Jeekers secretly relishes being first in the class for once.
  • 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.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Carl, of all people, has a Villainous BSoD 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?"
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Farley tells a long joke about a wish-granting mermaid that has this as the aesop, but it's a metaphor for the Howard and Skippy's relationships with women. Howard desperately wishes for Aurelie to sleep with him, but once she does it makes him miserable and destroys his existing life. Skippy desperately wishes for Lori (who's often compared to a mermaid), but when he gets her, it makes his life better but also brings him more heartache.
  • Betty and Veronica: Skippy is the Betty to Carl's Veronica, for Lori's Archie. Skippy is an innocent, good-hearted nerd, while Carl is a sexually aggressive bad boy.
  • Big Eater: Ruprecht is an enthusiastic eater at all times, and is the reigning doughnut-eating champion of Seabrook.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Janine, who is nominally Lori's best friend, plots behind her back to steal Carl from her, even coming to rub it in rather than supporting Lori when she has been hospitalized for her eating disorder and is not in a good place mentally.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tom gets away with what he did to Skippy scot-free, and Costigan takes over the school. But Howard, Ruprect, and Lori all find newfound purpose in their lives, and Lori doesn't kill herself.
  • Bland-Name Product: Skippy is obsessed with a fictional video game called Hopeland, which is suspiciously similar to The Legend of Zelda.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Seabrook College, a boarding school, is a downplayed example compared to classic Victorian cases (the narration notes that corporal punishment is no longer allowed). Still, students regularly beat and harass each other, most of the teachers are completely ineffective if not sexually abusing the students themselves and those in power prefer to cover things up rather than help any of the students.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: Lori's father, Gavin, shows signs of this. He is very suspicious of any and all boys she interacts with, and grounds her after she skips out after the Hop. Though considering his daughter and her taste in men, it's probably justified.
  • Breaking Speech: In the third volume, Dennis reveals that he faked Ruprecht's experimental "success" as a prank and goes on a long speech admonishing Ruprecht for caring more about himself and his overhyped prowess as a scientist than about Skippy. Ruprecht goes into a Heroic BSoD after this speech.
  • The Bully: Carl and Barry, who beat up younger kids to take their drugs. Siddartha and Garrett from the swim team are more low-key, but still qualify as they constantly harass Skippy. Really, Seabrook is just full of these guys.
  • Cannot Talk to Women: Skippy. When he first tries to speak to Lori, he stutters and makes a fool of himself, and almost completely bungles the encounter. He's saved only by the fact that she wants drugs, and he happens to have them.
  • The Caper: Operation Condor, Ruprecht's elaborate plan to break into the forbidden territory St. Brigid's. While this doesn't involve theft, the elaborate sneaky plan has a similar feeling. The boys decide they need to plant Ruprecht's alternate universe portal pod in the locked room of St. Brigid's due to its pre-Christian mythical history. To get in, they devise a team: Geoff acts as a decoy with a planted lost football to distract the janitor and a secret code in the form of a song, while the rest of them distract the guard dog with dog biscuits, and use a special skeleton key to open the door. Predictably, The Plan has many fail points: Ruprecht eats the dog biscuits and Odysseus has to fight the dog, the skeleton key doesn't work, their map is inaccurate, and Mario and Ruprecht are repeatedly almost captured by nuns, forcing them to abandon the pod.
  • The Casanova: Titch, the most sexually successful of anyone at Seabrook. His appeal lies not in his looks but his aura of normalcy.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Mario constantly brags about his prowess with the ladies, but he falls completely flat at his one opportunity, the Halloween Hop.
  • Challenging the Bully: The book combines this with Cock Fight. Skippy and Carl are both rivals for Lori's affection, but Skippy is a quiet nerd who is frequently bullied, while Carl is a psycho who bullies younger kids and sometimes pushes Skippy around. After Carl sets fire to Skippy's locker, Skippy challenges him to a fight. Surprisingly, Skippy is able to land a punch on Carl and "win" the fight, by visualizing attacks from his favorite video game.
  • 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 is easily distracted and his mind often wanders in strange directions and jumps to strange conclusions. He tends to immediately jump on board with Ruprecht's outlandish ideas, and is most known for doing a convincing, creepy zombie voice at inappropriate intervals.
  • Comfort Food: Ruprecht loves donuts and eats more donuts than ever after Skippy's death to console himself.
  • 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 is obsessed with managing the school's image and is incredibly convincing when he talks about the many, many coverups he executes.
  • Cool Kid-and-Loser Friendship: Hinted at at the very end. After Lori, formerly the Alpha Bitch and most popular girl in school, talks Ruprecht, who is a frequently-bullied nerd and her former hated enemy, out of suicide, the two of them make plans to join forces and work together, suggesting the beginning of an Odd Friendship. Though at this point their lives have been so thoroughly shattered it's unclear if either is a cool kid or loser anymore.
  • Cool Teacher: Zig-zagged with Howard. He starts off the book as an Apathetic Teacher who hates his life and just goes through the motions of teaching while seeing himself as a loser, though others note that the students seem to trust him, and he's ordered to try to give guidance to Skippy. As his personal life goes off the rails, he becomes increasingly obsessed with World War I and tries to bring the history to life by deviating from the textbook and going on an impromptu field trip, which sets him on a collision course with Acting Principal Costigan, who hangs a lampshade on the trope by warning him against imitating Dead Poets Society. This seems to reach the students, though they're also weirded out by his erratic behavior. By the end of the book, he seems to have found new purpose in sincerely trying to inspire and protect his students.
  • 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, who has a snarky, contrarian take on everything and always disbelieves Ruprecht.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When Carl finds out about Lori seeing Skippy and not him, he doesn't take it well and starts threatening Skippy.
  • Creepy Gym Coach: Jokes are made about Tom the swim coach having an interest in boys. Turns out he raped Skippy and caused him to commit suicide as a result.
  • Date Rape:
    • Carl goes to the Hop specifically to drug Lori's drink and have sex with her. Thankfully, she's already snuck out with Skippy.
    • Many elements of the blowjob Lori gives Carl are questionably consenting.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: It's implied that this is a big part of why Lori goes out with Carl.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dennis is constantly making fun of his friends and dropping witticisms.
  • Dean Bitterman: Acting Principal Greg Costigan, aka "The Automator". He's dead-set against Howard's attempts to deviate from the textbook or anything that challenges social expectations, and becomes increasingly an enemy of Howard as the book progresses. He's dead-set on modernizing the school, but only cares about money and prestige, not the well-being of students. He also is set against Skippy in particular, seeing him as a troublemaker (rather than the person in trouble that he is) due to his sometimes odd behavior, and uses him as a scapegoat.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Near the end of the book, Carl seems to think so, believing he must die in a fire in order to cleanse what he views as his responsibility for Skippy's death.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Subverted. Even after Skippy's death, Carl still has no chance of getting together with Lori.
  • Death Seeker: Near the end of the book, Father Green realizes the building is on fire, pulls the fire alarm, and goes back in his office in the burning building to sit there and wait to die.
  • 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. Nobody believed he could do it— all of Skippy's friends were convinced Carl would kill him.
  • Destructive Romance: The Skippy-Lori-Carl love triangle, for all three of them. The fallout of the relationship drama leaves Skippy Dead and Lori and Carl deeply psychologically damaged and on the brink of suicide.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Skippy dies in the arms of Zhang Xielin, a random stranger who works at the doughnut shop.
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Irony: After Howard almost hits Skippy with his car, he thinks, "A dead student. That's all [I] need." The reader knows from the title and first chapter that Skippy will die, and in fact this incident comes only a few hours before Skippy's death.
  • Driven to Suicide: Skippy takes a whole bottle of pills after a very rough day. Carl was later driven to this after his hallucinations and Heel Realization makes him think he has to die to prove his love to Lori, but is saved from the fire by Howard. Towards the end of the book, Lori (and perhaps Ruprecht as well) 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 is pretty much constantly drunk.
  • 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. Dennis also frequently calls Ruprecht "Van Blowjob" and variations.
  • Endearingly Dorky: Skippy is a shy and nerdy kid, and it's impossible not to love him for his dweebiness (he practices video game moves in his room to prepare for a fight) and innocence. He gathers a tight-knit group of friends despite his dorkiness, and various authority figures such as Howard and Father Green find his innocence and geekiness endearing.
  • 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.
  • False Friend: Janine is one to both Carl and Lori, exploiting both of them in order to get what she wants.
  • Fat Best Friend: Ruprecht is Skippy's fat best friend, and gets much less characterization than Skippy.
  • Feghoot: Farley tells a multi-page story about a man's encounter with a mermaid, all of which was build up to a dirty joke that's a play on the word "head." Of course, it's also an allegory for Howard and Skippy's experiences with women.
  • Fictional Video Game: Hopeland, the RPG that Skippy is obsessed with finishing, which has some similarities to The Legend of Zelda. Skippy struggles to finish the game by Saving The Princess and defeating the three demons parallel his personal struggles to get with Lori and defeat his three personal demons (Carl, his swim coach who raped him, and his sick mother).
  • Fired Teacher: Howard ends up fired towards the end of the book.
  • First Kiss: Skippy has his first kiss with Lori, though he lies about it to seem mature.
  • First Love: Lori is Skippy's. She turns out to be his last and only.
  • First-Name Basis: The Automator's insistence that all the teachers call him "Greg", to the affront of Father Green, signifies his new, modern corporate approach to running the school and his disregard for tradition and history.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Mentioned by Father Foley to Ruprecht's parents.
  • Former Teen Rebel: The Automator was in a rock band as a teen which played edgy (for the time), anti-establishment music such as Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall". Now he's a principal and captain of the vanguard of enforced conformity and corporate values.
  • Friend to Psychos: Barry is fast friends with the less intelligent and more violent Carl, even when Carl messes things up for him. Carl's craziness comes in handy when intimidating others for their drug racket.
  • Freudian Excuse: Carl is a cruel, drug-dealing psychopath, but his toxic home life helps explain why, or at least why no one notices.
  • Geek Physiques: Ruprecht, the string-theory obsessed Teen Genius, is very fat and is constantly eating. His best friend Skippy, a studious and quiet nerd who loves video games as well as science, is slight and skinny.
  • Genius Sweet Tooth: Ruprecht is a genius with an obsessive love of doughnuts.
  • The Ghost: Skippy's mom, who is mentioned and described by other characters but doesn't get any dialogue.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Skippy, who loves video games and science more than anything, falls in love with the incredibly beautiful and popular Lori, who actually ends up somewhat reciprocating. It doesn't work out well for them though.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery:
    • Howard's dissatisfaction with his life with Halley leads him to sleep with Aurelie (who was in turn cheating on her own fiance by doing so). This loses Howard both women, but Aurelie gets off scot-free and goes to pursue a happy life with her oblivious fiance. Howard's decision to cheat is portrayed more sympathetically than Aurelie's, though Howard is punished by the narrative for it.
    • 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. This gives the impression both in and out of universe that he's a creepy jerk — perhaps this is where Carl's personality comes from.
  • 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.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Mario gets a lot of these moments. When it seems like his friends are about to get expelled, he says something along the lines of "If you guys left I would miss you. For the record, that does not mean that I am a homosexual."
  • The Heart: It turns out Skippy was this, as his group of friends drift apart after he dies.
  • Heel Realization: At the end of the book, Carl realizes that he is the demon and decides he has to die in order to be free of Skippy's ghost.
  • Heroic BSoD: Ruprecht flips out after Skippy's death. He stops answering in class and does nothing but eat doughnuts.
  • High-School Dance: The Halloween Hop, a dance held in the gym, is the big social event at Seabrook College and one of the few opportunities for the all-boys-school students to interact with girls. As such, the characters treat it as a pivotal event for their romantic lives.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Nearly all the teen characters fall into this. Various references are made to Seabrook being filled with "a cloud of hormones". All the boys are constantly talking and thinking about sex, and all the girls are very concerned with boys and making poor relationship choices (and sex, though not as single-mindedly as the boys). The only exceptions are Skippy, who's a late bloomer (and has some other reasons to feel weird about that stuff) and Ruprecht, a TV Genius who's sexuality is somewhat unclear.
  • Hot Teacher: Aurelie. All her students (and some of the fellow teachers) are spellbound by her looks and charm.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Many people have this reaction when things start falling apart at Seabrook after Skippy dies, becoming angry and blaming him.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Costigan, who makes many gestures to the school's greatness and the success of his students when all he cares about is optics.
    • Father Green is the most outspoken about adhering to old values and avoiding sin, particularly sexual sins. In fact, he no longer believes in God, and is haunted by the times that he gave into sin back in Africa by molesting the children he was teaching.
  • I Call Him "Mister 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.'
  • Idol Singer: Bethani, the teen pop star Lori idolizes, who resembles a number of early/mid 2000's teen stars such as Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Skippy visualizes the attacks from Hopeland while fighting Carl, which actually allows him to win the fight.
  • 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 constantly makes fun of his friends and belittles Ruprecht, but he secretly does care about them.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Greg Costigan, Aurelie, and Tom Roche get no comeuppance for anything they did, all basically getting what they wanted in life despite the bad things they were responsible for.
    • Guido LaManche was ultimately responsible for the bungee-jumping accident that ruined Tom's life, as he was the one who built the thing and pressured everyone into it. Guido faces basically no consequences for this and goes on to become incredibly successful in life, while Howard is blamed for what happened and haunted by it forever.
    • Carl gets no official rebuke for drugging the entire school, injuring other kids, or any of the other bad (and illegal) things he does. The ending letter implies that Carl was not found responsible for deliberately burning down the school and killing Father Green. Unlike some other characters, Carl at least is wracked with mental torment for what he sees as his role in Skippy's death.
  • 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 cute as hell, and he dies in the first chapter.
  • Lack of Empathy: Carl seems to be unable to empathize with others, and he's clearly not wired correctly.
  • Last Request: "Tell Lori he loves her! Oh my god!" on Skippy's deathbed in the doughnut shop.
  • 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.
  • Local Hangout: All the teen characters (and Seabrook and St. Brigid's students in general) regularly hang out at Ed's Doughnut House, and pivotal scenes such as Carl's "date" with Lori, Carl getting beat up by the Knackers, and Skippy's death all take place in the vicinity of Ed's. Apparently it served the same function when Howard was in school as well.
  • Longing for Fictionland: Skippy becomes increasingly withdrawn into his video game, Hopeland and events in the game and in his real life become increasingly fused in his mind as the story progresses.
  • Loser Protagonist: Howard shares the Protagonist slot with Skippy and a few other characters, but he gets a lot of POV time in the narration. Howard is stuck at a job that he hates because he failed out of his other career, is stuck in an unfulfilling relationship, and fears that he'll never do anything meaningful in his life. For much of the book, he lives up to his nickname "Howard the Coward", being generally spineless and stuck reliving his past failures.
  • 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. His relationship to her mostly involves sexually fantasizing about her, and pressuring her to sleep with him.
  • Manchild: Discussed when some of Howard's coworkers read a magazine article about the "kidadult", who displays exaggeratedly childish attributes such as riding on motorcycles and buying electronics. While Howard doesn't have those "kidadult" features, he is trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence. Trapped in his high school, at 28 he still thinks of himself as an awkward teenager and is haunted by the mistakes of his youth. Howard is shy of commitment and longs for the nebulous state of adolescence when the future is still full of many opportunities. His character arc involves learning to accept responsibility and become a man.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There are a number of seemingly supernatural occurrences that are portrayed ambiguously due to POV switches between overly hopeful or mentally unstable characters. Do Ruprecht's inventions really work? Do ancient Irish burial mounds have power? Are the demons of Hopeland real? Of the three, the Irish burial mounds resolve as most likely to be really supernatural.
  • 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."
  • Miss Conception: After Lori is forced to swallow after giving Carl a blowjob, she thinks she might be pregnant and freaks out, despite this being impossible.
    • Justified as she's a teenage girl, even if she got a good sex ed class (which is unlikely) she's not going know everything involving sex or sexual acts.
  • 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. It still haunts him years afterward.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: After Skippy's taken a fatal dose of pills, he relives many of his happiest memories in life, including many from his childhood.
  • 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.
  • The New Rock & Roll: Rap is portrayed in the book as farcially offensive, containing ludicrous amount of sexual and violent references. Once rap gets played at the Halloween Hop, it turns instantly into A Party, Also Known as an Orgy. There's also a lot of discussion about how Rock 'n Roll itself was once edgy and cool but is now the province of staid adults such as The Automator. The Seabrook boys who have a rock band aren't portrayed as particularly cool.
  • Nice Guy: Skippy is earnest, quiet, and never says a bad thing to anyone.
  • No Sense of Humor: Carl sometimes laughs without knowing why, and has trouble grasping others' jokes.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: Mario has a paralyzing fear of nuns.
  • 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.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Howard feels this way towards his aforementioned Greatest Failure.
  • One-Gender School: Seabrook is an all-boys school, and St. Brigid's is its female sister school next door.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: 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.
  • Overcome with Desire: Within fifteen minutes of having a drink, Aurelie and Howard are so eager to sleep with each other that they have sex right then on a classroom desk, even though they're supposed to be supervising the Halloween Hop and are both in relationships. There's no way this could go wrong...
  • Pedophile Priest: A great deal of suspense concerns whether Father Green is a pedophile. His inner monologue implies that he molested children in Africa while there as a missionary, and he lusts after Skippy, but never actually molests him. His coach Tom Roche, however...
  • 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.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Eoin "MC Sexecutioner" Flynn and Patrick "Da Knowledge" Noonan have outrageous rapper personas and use every opportunity to rap. On Halloween, they dress in blackface.
  • Pushover Parents: Carl's mother seems to let him do whatever he wants, and his father doesn't seem to care enough about his son to discipline him.
  • The Quiet One: Skippy doesn't talk much.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Tom Roche gets a new job at a school in Mauritius midway through the year as punishment/coverup for molesting Skippy, contributing to his suicide and drug abuse. It's treated as a sad event by some of the characters, but it's actually a secretly intentional Reassignment Backfire, as the new job gives him his dream of coaching rugby.
  • Rhyming Names: Howard the Coward, to his dismay.
  • Rich Bitch: Lori is a deconstructed example. Due to her beauty and wealthy parents, she's accustomed to getting everything she wants, and is sometimes randomly cruel to other kids she deems unworthy. After Skippy's death, she finds that her parents substitute material things for affection or emotional expression, and that everyone around her are fake friends. She also angsts about how her own selfishness caused such harm to Skippy, who actually loved her, and learns that you simply can't get everything you want, as her love for both Skippy and Carl was incompatible and led to destruction for all three of them.
  • Sadist Teacher: Father Green hates teaching, hates teaching French, and hates his students. One devastating scene has him tormenting Skippy over perceived obscenity.
  • Save Our Students: Inverted in the first part of the book, which sets up a contrast between the school's troubled but privileged students who aren't helped by any of the authorities, and Howard, the Apathetic Teacher who went to Seabrook and desperately wishes to escape. By the end of the book, Howard takes steps towards becoming an inspiring teacher and mentor, which culminates in him heroically rescuing Carl from a burning building, and the epilogue hints that he is fully committed to trying to save the kids.
  • Skewed Priorities: The Automator prioritizes the school's image over the well-being of the students. He makes it very clear that he thinks molesting a student and driving him to suicide if you're important to the sports program is much less bad than chickening out of a dangerous teen prank. He also has a tendency to hold minor, teenage physiological accidents against his students, insisting that Skippy throwing up in class or Ruprecht popping a boner in the gym showers is irrefutable proof of their delinquency.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Carl plans to use date rape drugs on Lori at the dance, but when he finds her not there he drugs every single person at the dance.
  • Spoiler Title: A deliberate example.
  • Spurned into Suicide: Played with. Skippy fatally overdoses after finding out his girlfriend cheated on him, and gives her a Dying Declaration of Love. The whole school naturally assumes he killed himself over her. But in truth the incident with Lori was the last straw for Skippy, who was burdened with a whole host of serious problems. The last third of the book wrestles with who exactly is to blame for Skippy's death, as everyone around him has some amount of responsibility.
  • Stepford Smiler: After Skippy's death, Lori becomes a Type A. She acts completely normal on the outside, but inside she's deeply shaken and undergoes a slow mental breakdown over time.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Carl is sexually and romantically obsessed with Lori, and follows her around, lurks outside her house, and harasses her new love interest Skippy.
  • 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.
  • Suicide by Pills: The book begins with the titular character dying on the floor of a doughnut shop as his friends and a shopworker try desperately and futilely trying to revive him. The rest of the story reveals that Skippy took a lethal dose of pain pills in response to a cascade of terrible events.
  • 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.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The teens in this story are self-absorbed, drugged-up, hormonal, and sometimes manipulative and two-faced, sometimes psychopathic bullies. However, the book ends with the theme that the teens, at least, are capable of redemption.
  • Teen Genius: Ruprecht, a brilliant student who spends his spare time building inventions that he says will prove String Theory.
  • 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 ends up anorexic.
  • Teens Love Shopping: Zigzagged. At first, Lori loves shopping with her friends, but when Skippy dies, Lori's mom tries to cheer her up by taking her shopping but it just makes her sadder.
  • Terrible Pick-Up Lines: Mario Bianchi frequently spouts these as part of his advice on how to get girls. Fortunately, all other characters promptly ignore him.
    Excuse me, you are stepping on my dick. Do you get it? Because my dick is so long, it comes out of my trousers, and onto the floor.
  • TV Genius: Ruprecht is a genius whose only interests are the decidedly geeky String Theory, classical music, and Yahtzee. He works these interests into unrelated conversations, and seems baffled by many normal social occasions such as a school dance.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Costigan's taking over the running of Seabrook is played somewhat like this.
  • Unreliable Narrator: With all the POV switching, it's hard to figure out what exactly is real, particularly when drug-addled characters like Carl and Skippy take the narrative reins.
  • Villainous BSoD: After Skippy dies, Carl flips out, mirroring Ruprecht's HeroicBSOD.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Carl lurks around Lori's house in several scenes, and is implied 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. Everyone in a packed gym starts vomiting in unison after drinking the punch.
  • 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."
  • Wild Teen Party: The instant Howard and Aurelie leave the hall, the Halloween Hop turns into this. The music is replaced with impossibly loud and crude rap music, the punch is quickly spiked, and the dance rapidly turns into A Party, Also Known as an Orgy as all the kids lose their clothes and get wild.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Carl 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.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: When Howard was a teen, he was involved in an incredibly poorly thought-out adolescent escapade spearheaded by Guido LaManche. Guido peer-pressured everyone to go bungee jumping using homemade, jury-rigged equipment off the side of the quarry in the middle of the night, and after drawing straws, Howard was selected to go first. Howard then chickened out, leading to his nickname "Howard the Coward." Tom Roche had a go in his stead, which unsurprisingly led to a crippling injury and life-long disability.