Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

Okay, Skippy dies. That’s no surprise; it happens in the first few pages of the book, on the floor of a Dublin doughnut shop frequented by acne-ridden adolescents from the boys’ school up the road. The surprise lies in how fervently I hoped throughout the rest of the book that that scene somehow didn’t happen, that it was all a hoax, that Skippy was in fact alive and well and off somewhere getting his life together.

From the first chapter, Paul Murray shifts through time with assurance, showing how sweet, sensitive Skippy’s death affects those around him while also revealing, slowly, how he came to be sprawled on the floor of the doughnut shop with his friend Ruprecht looking on in the first place.

The adults in the book are hugely disappointing–indeed, the complete ineptitude displayed by Skippy’s teachers and parents is one of the weaknesses of the book. But the author draws upon Skippy’s friends for the story’s humor and wisdom: the observations about school and life are sharp and witty, and Skippy’s pal Dennis gives an interpretation of Robert Frost that still makes me laugh out loud.

Funny, tragic, and occasionally even uplifting, Skippy Dies is a roller-coaster ride through the good, the bad, and the ridiculous–i.e., adolescence–with a main character whose death serves, too late, to bring him to life.

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