Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies

3.7 95
by Paul Murray

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Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin's venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop?

Could it have something to do with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight genius who is determined to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory?

Could it involve Carl, the teenage drug

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Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin's venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop?

Could it have something to do with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight genius who is determined to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory?

Could it involve Carl, the teenage drug dealer and borderline psychotic who is Skippy's rival in love?

Or could "the Automator"--the ruthless, smooth-talking headmaster intent on modernizing the school--have something to hide?

Why Skippy dies and what happens next is the subject of this dazzling and uproarious novel, unraveling a mystery that links the boys of Seabrook College to their parents and teachers in ways nobody could have imagined. With a cast of characters that ranges from hip-hop-loving fourteen-year-old Eoin "MC Sexecutioner" Flynn to basketball-playing midget Philip Kilfether, packed with questions and answers on everything from Ritalin, to M-theory, to bungee jumping, to the hidden meaning of the poetry of Robert Frost, Skippy Dies is a heartfelt, hilarious portrait of the pain, joy, and occasional beauty of adolescence, and a tragic depiction of a world always happy to sacrifice its weakest members. As the twenty-first century enters its teenage years, this is a breathtaking novel, in this striking three-volume boxed set, from a young writer who will come to define his generation.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
At Dublin's Seabrook College, Skippy survives the daily indignities common to a boarder's life in an elite boys school. Still, something's wrong. Why does he want to quit the swim team? Why are his grades slipping? And who's the dark-haired St. Brigid's girl Skippy is always trying to spy on with his roommate's telescope? Seabrook is the world in miniature, and its gates threaten to burst from the hugger-mugger of cruelty, scandal, and materialism teeming within. It takes Skippy's tragic death and a sequence of events both hilarious and horrifying to recover the consolations provided by sympathy and friendship. Whether these will be enough to redeem Seabrook remains anyone's guess, though Murray suggests that a fleeting sense of grace may be all we can hope for and more than we deserve. VERDICT Murray's second novel (after An Evening of Long Goodbyes) is almost flawless, a gift for fans of character and plot. In addition to his masterly use of James Joyce and Robert Graves throughout, Murray has created a social realism that holds its own with that of Dickens. Skippy Dies deserves to be widely read and loved. [Also available as a three-volume paperback boxed set, ISBN 978-0-86547-948-7, $30; see Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/10.]—J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Lib., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews

If Harry Potter lived in an alternate Ireland, had no real magical powers but talked a good game, and fell all over himself every time he saw a girl, he might well belong in this splendid, sardonic magnum opus.

It seems safe to guess that Dublin resident Murray (An Evening of Long Goodbyes, 2004) knows the world of boarding schools, of drab dorms, fetid hallways and teenaged lads with their layers on layers of desperation. It seems even safer to guess, though, that unlike Seabrook College for boys, his Ruprecht Van Doren has no exact counterpart in real life. While the others lust after the girls in the prep school next door, Ruprecht—who "arrived at Seabrook in January, like a belated and non-returnable Christmas gift, after both his parents were lost on a kayaking expedition up the Amazon"—is exercising his weird brilliance by opening portals into parallel universes and confounding post-Newtonian physics. All the same, he's a fairly normal kid compared to some of the others, devout in his studies, hand up in class, quick to volunteer for extracurricular activities. Out in the hall, after all, there are thugs and drugs, kids steeped in Vietnam films and antinomianism, other kids lost in their own dismal worlds. The grown-ups aren't too much different; one teacher who is only ten years out of Seabrook himself has visions of the place in flames, while another seeks to find his way across the generation gap to find out just what junior is thinking. Throughout lurk the ghosts of the dead of World War I and the tutelary spirit of Robert Graves, odd sightings of whose memoir Goodbye to All That dot Murray's narrative. Oh, and then there's a fatal doughnut-eating contest as well, whence the title. Murray wanders confidently through the torments of the adolescent imagination, and he delivers a rollicking tale worthy of a Stephen Dedalus—but a lot more comprehensible.

Long and impossibly involved, but also beautifully written, with much truth and not a wasted word. A superb imagining of a strange world—that of pimply-faced kids, that is. Alternate universes, too.

Jess Walter
If killing your protagonist with more than 600 pages to go sounds audacious, it's nothing compared with the literary feats Murray pulls off in this hilarious, moving and wise book…Skippy Dies is an epic crafted around, of all things, a pack of 14-year-old boys. It's the Moby-Dick of Irish prep schools…The mixture of tones is the book's true triumph, oscillating the banal with the sublime, the silly with the terrifying, the sweet with the tragic. In short, it's like childhood. In shorter, like life.
—The Washington Post
Dan Kois
…extravagantly entertaining…Six hundred sixty-one pages may seem like a lot to devote to a bunch of flatulence-obsessed kids, but that daunting length is part and parcel of the cause to which Skippy Dies, in the end, is most devoted. Teenagers, though they may not always act like it, are human beings, and their sadness and loneliness (and their triumphs, no matter how temporary) are as momentous as any adult's. And novels about them—if they're as smart and funny and touching as Skippy Dies—can be just as long as they like.
—The New York Times
Andrew Holgate

Irishman Paul Murray's Man Booker-longlisted second novel embraces several different fiction genres in its 650 pages -- social comedy, coming-of-age tale, love story, tragedy. At its heart, though, what this capacious, dark but often very funny book really wants to be is a state-of-the-nation novel, its subject the precarious moral health of Murray's homeland.

Taking the role of Ireland in Skippy Dies is Seabrook College ("the oldest Catholic boys' school in the country"), an institution whose long-cherished priestly traditions are under vigorous assault from a combination of drugs, sex-abuse scandals, the porn-soaked sensibilities of its students, and Celtic Tiger business practices. The modern world has come crashing through Seabrook's august gates, and being buffeted about in the ensuing storm are three innocents -- Howard "the Coward" Fallon, a chronically underachieving history teacher who has sought sanctuary at his old alma mater after a disastrous sojourn in London; outsize science prodigy Ruprecht Van Doren, who spends his days pondering the meaning of M-theory; and his roommate and best friend Daniel "Skippy" Juster, a frail, vulnerable child whose mother is dying of cancer and who has conceived a hopeless passion for a dark-haired beauty called Lori from the girls' school next door. Skippy, we know from the book's title, is himself going to die -- indeed he does so in the first few pages, halfway through a doughnut-eating contest with Ruprecht. The rest of the novel is spent discovering why, and what the consequences are for the people he leaves behind.

Murray populates his story with a highly entertaining supporting cast of adolescent misfits and adult grotesques. There's Mario, a sex-obsessed 14-year-old who carries around a "lucky condom" as a sign of his virility and sexual sophistication, and Carl, a psychotic, self-harming student who stands between Skippy and his love for Lori. Among the teachers are Father Green, a hell-fire priest who looks back nostalgically to his days as a missionary in Africa, and Acting Principal Gregory Costigan, the morally corrupt deputy head who uses the headmaster's illness as his way of getting to the top. Murray restlessly juggles not only these characters but a whole host of ideas -- about the above-mentioned M-theory, Robert Graves's notion of the White Goddess, and the secret history of Irish involvement in the First World War, to name just three. Some of this can feel extraneous, and a good deal of it could, in truth, have been trimmed. But Murray is such a precocious talent, such a witty raconteur, and such an effortless stylist, that he carries you along on his meandering tour of the Irish psyche without too much complaint. In particular, he is able to inhabit the scrofulous, sex-obsessed minds of his young characters with remarkable ease, giving voice to their lives much in the manner of Roddy Doyle in The Commitments.

Where he differs markedly from Doyle, though, is in his reach and ambition, in the darkness that accompanies and ultimately overtakes the banter. For all the jocularity and the schoolboy pranks, this is a disturbing book, one full of anger about the unexamined history of modern Ireland. That two such contrasting sets of emotions can play successfully alongside each other is just one of the achievements of Murray's rewarding and engrossing book.

--Andrew Holgate

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Product Details

Faber and Faber
Publication date:
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5.88(w) x 11.04(h) x 1.38(d)

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In winter months, from his seat in the middle desk of the middle row, Howard used to look out the window of the History Room and watch the whole school go up in flames. The rugby pitches, the basketball court, the car park and the trees beyond – for one beautiful instant everything would be engulfed; and though the spell was quickly broken – the light deepening and reddening and flattening out, leaving the school and its environs intact – you would know at least that the day was almost over.

Today he stands at the head of the class: the wrong angle and the wrong time of year to view the sunset. He knows, however, that fifteen minutes remain on the clock, and so, pinching his nose, sighing imperceptibly, he tries again. ‘Come on, now. The main protagonists. Just the main ones. Anybody?’

The torpid silence remains undisturbed. The radiators are blazing, though it is not particularly cold outside: the heating system is elderly and erratic, like most things at this end of the school, and over the course of the day the heat builds to a swampy, malarial fug. Howard complains, of course, like the other teachers, but he is secretly not ungrateful; combined with the powerful soporific effects of history itself, it means the disorder levels of his later classes rarely extend beyond a low drone of chatter and the occasional paper aeroplane.

‘Anyone?’ he repeats, looking over the class, deliberately ignoring Ruprecht Van Doren’s upstretched hand, beneath which the rest of Ruprecht strains breathlessly. The rest of the boys blink back at Howard as if to reproach him for disturbing their peace. In Howard’s old seat, Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster stares catatonically into space, for all the world as if he’s been drugged; in the back-row suntrap, Henry Lafayette has made a little nest of his arms in which to lay his head. Even the clock sounds like it’s half asleep.

‘We’ve been talking about this for the last two days. Are you telling me no one can name a single one of the countries involved? Come on, you’re not getting out of here till you’ve shown me that you know this.’

‘Uruguay?’ Bob Shambles incants vaguely, as if summoning the answer from magical vapours.

‘No,’ Howard says, glancing down at the book spread open on his lectern just to make sure. ‘Known at the time as “the war to end all wars”,’ the caption reads, below a picture of a vast, water-logged moonscape from which all signs of life, natural or man-made, have been comprehensively removed.

‘The Jews?’ Ultan O’Dowd says.

‘The Jews are not a country. Mario?’

‘What?’ Mario Bianchi’s head snaps up from whatever he is attending to, probably his phone, under the desk. ‘Oh, it was … it was – ow, stop – sir, Dennis is feeling my leg! Stop feeling me, feeler!’

‘Stop feeling his leg, Dennis.’

‘I wasn’t, sir!’ Dennis Hoey, all wounded innocence.

On the blackboard, ‘MAIN’ – Militarism, Alliances, Industrialization, Nationalism – copied out of the textbook at the start of class, is slowly bleached out by the lowering sun. ‘Yes, Mario?’

‘Uh …’ Mario prevaricates. ‘Well, Italy …’

‘Italy was in charge of the catering,’ Niall Henaghan suggests.

‘Hey,’ Mario warns.

‘Sir, Mario calls his wang Il Duce,’ says Dennis.



‘But he does – you do, I’ve heard you. “Time to rise, Duce,” you say. “Your people await you, Duce.”’

‘At least I have a wang, and am not a boy with … Instead of a wang, he has just a blank piece of …’

‘I feel we’re straying off the point here,’ Howard intervenes. ‘Come on, guys. The protagonists of the First World War. I’ll give you a clue. Germany. Germany was involved. Who were Germany’s allies – yes, Henry?’ as Henry Lafayette, whatever he is dreaming of, emits a loud snort. Hearing his name, he raises his head and gazes at Howard with dizzy, bewildered eyes.

‘Elves?’ he ventures.

The classroom explodes into hysterics.

‘Well, what was the question?’ Henry asks, somewhat woundedly.

Howard is on the brink of accepting defeat and beginning the class all over again. A glance at the clock, however, absolves him from any further effort today, so instead he directs them back to the textbook, and has Geoff Sproke read out the poem reproduced there.

‘“In Flanders Fields”,’ Geoff obliges. ‘By Lieutenant John McCrae.’

‘John McGay,’ glosses John Reidy.

‘That’s enough.’

‘“In Flanders fields,”’ Geoff reads, ‘“the poppies blow”:

‘Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived –’

At this point the bell rings. In a single motion the daydreaming and somnolent snap awake, grab their bags, stow their books and move as one for the door. ‘For tomorrow, read the end of the chapter,’ Howard calls over the melee. ‘And while you’re at it, read the stuff you were supposed to read for today.’ But the class has already fizzed away, and Howard is left as he always is, wondering if anyone has been listening to a single thing he’s said; he can practically see his words crumpled up on the floor. He packs away his own book, wipes clean the board and sets off to fight his way through the home-time throng to the staff room.

In Our Lady’s Hall, hormonal surges have made giants and midgets of the crowd. The tang of adolescence, impervious to deodorant or opened windows, hangs heavy, and the air tintinnabulates with bleeps, chimes and trebly shards of music as two hundred mobile phones, banned during the school day, are switched back on with the urgency of divers reconnecting to their oxygen supply. From her alcove a safe elevation above it, the plaster Madonna with the starred halo and the peaches-and-cream complexion pouts coquettishly at the rampaging maleness below.

‘Hey, Flubber!’ Dennis Hoey scampers across Howard’s path to waylay William ‘Flubber’ Cooke. ‘Hey, I just wanted to ask you a question?’

‘What?’ Flubber immediately suspicious.

‘Uh, I was just wondering – are you a bummer tied to a tree?’

Brows creasing, Flubber – fourteen stone and on his third trip through second year – turns this over.

‘It’s not a trick or anything,’ promises Dennis. ‘I just wanted to know, you know, if you’re a bummer tied to a tree.’

‘No,’ Flubber resolves, at which Dennis takes flight, declaring exuberantly, ‘Bummer on the loose! Bummer on the loose!’ Flubber lets out a roar and prepares to give chase, then stops abruptly and ducks off in the other direction as the crowd parts and a tall, cadaverous figure comes striding through.

Father Jerome Green: teacher of French, coordinator of Seabrook’s charitable works, and by some stretch the school’s most terrifying personage. Wherever he goes it is with two or three bodies’ worth of empty space around him, as if he’s accompanied by an invisible retinue of pitchfork-wielding goblins, ready to jab at anyone who happens to be harbouring an impure thought. As he passes, Howard musters a weak smile; the priest glares back at him the same way he does at everyone, with a kind of ready, impersonal disapproval, so adept at looking into man’s soul and seeing sin, desire, ferment that he does it now like ticking a box.

Sometimes Howard feels dispiritedly as if not one thing has changed here in the ten years since he graduated. The priests in particular bring this out in him. The hale ones are still hale, the doddery ones still dodder; Father Green still collects canned food for Africa and terrorizes the boys, Father Laughton still gets teary-eyed when he presents the works of Bach to his unheeding classes, Father Foley still gives ‘guidance’ to troubled youngsters, invariably in the form of an admonition to play more rugby. On bad days Howard sees their endurance as a kind of personal rebuke – as if that almost-decade of life between matriculation and his ignominious return here had, because of his own ineptitude, been rolled back, struck from the record, deemed merely so much fudge.

Of course this is pure paranoia. The priests are not immortal. The Holy Paraclete Fathers are experiencing the same problem as every other Catholic order: they are dying out. Few of the priests in Seabrook are under sixty, and the newest recruit to the pastoral programme – one of an ever-dwindling number – is a young seminarian from somewhere outside Kinshasa; when the school principal, Father Desmond Furlong, fell ill at the beginning of September, it was a layman – economics teacher Gregory L. Costigan – who took the reins, for the first time in Seabrook’s history.

Leaving behind the wood-panelled halls of the Old Building, Howard passes up the Annexe, climbs the stairs, and opens, with the usual frisson of weirdness, the door marked ‘Staff-room’. Inside, a half-dozen of his colleagues are kvetching, marking homework or changing their nicotine patches. Without addressing anyone or otherwise signalling his presence, Howard goes to his locker and throws a couple of books and a pile of copies into his briefcase; then, moving crab-like to avoid eye contact, he steals out of the room again. He clatters back down the stairs and the now-deserted corridor, eyes fixed deter-minedly on the exit – when he is arrested by the sound of a young female voice.

It appears that, although the bell for the end of the school day rang a good five minutes ago, class in the Geography Room is still in full swing. Crouching slightly, Howard peers through the narrow window set in the door. The boys inside show no sign of impatience; in fact, by their expressions, they are quite oblivious to the passage of time.

The reason for this stands at the head of the class. Her name is Miss McIntyre; she is a substitute. Howard has caught glimpses of her in the staff room and on the corridor, but he hasn’t yet managed to speak to her. In the cavernous depths of the Geography Room, she draws the eye like a flame. Her blonde hair has that cascading quality you normally see only in TV ads for shampoo, complemented by a sophisticated magnolia two-piece more suited to a boardroom than a transition-year class; her voice, while soft and melodious, has at the same time an ungainsayable quality, an undertone of command. In the crook of her arm she cradles a globe, which while she speaks she caresses absently as if it were a fat, spoiled housecat; it almost seems to purr as it revolves langorously under her fingertips.

‘… just beneath the surface of the Earth,’ she is saying, ‘temperatures so high that the rock itself is molten – can anyone tell me what it’s called, this molten rock?’

‘Magma,’ croak several boys at once.

‘And what do you call it, when it bursts up onto the Earth’s surface from a volcano?’

‘Lava,’ they respond tremulously.

‘Excellent! And millions of years ago, there was an enormous amount of volcanic activity, with magma boiling up over the entire surface of the Earth non-stop. The landscape around us today –’ she runs a lacquered fingernail down a swelling ridge of mountain ‘– is mostly the legacy of this era, when the whole planet was experiencing dramatic physical changes. I suppose you could call it Earth’s teenage years!’

The class blushes to its collective roots and stares down at its textbook. She laughs again, and spins the globe, snapping it under her fingertips like a musician plucking the strings of a double bass, then catches sight of her watch. ‘Oh my gosh! Oh, you poor things, I should have let you out ten minutes ago! Why didn’t someone say something?’

The class mumbles inaudibly, still looking at the book.

‘Well, all right …’ She turns to write their homework on the blackboard, reaching up so that her skirt rises to expose the back of her knees; moments later the door opens, and the boys troop reluctantly out. Howard, affecting to study the photographs on the noticeboard of the Hillwalking Club’s recent outing to Djouce Mountain, watches from the corner of his eye until the flow of grey jumpers has ceased. When she fails to appear, he goes back to investi–


‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry.’ He hunkers down beside her and helps her re-amass the pages that have fluttered all over the gritty corridor floor. ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you. I was just rushing back to a … a meeting …’

‘That’s all right,’ she says, ‘thanks,’ as he places a sheaf of Ordnance Survey maps on top of the stack she’s gathered back in her arms. ‘Thank you,’ she repeats, looking directly into his eyes, and continuing to look into them as they rise in unison to their feet, so that Howard, finding himself unable to look away, feels a brief moment of panic, as if they have somehow become locked together, like those apocryphal stories you hear about the kids who get their braces stuck together while kissing and have to get the fire brigade to cut them out.

‘Sorry,’ he says again, reflexively.

‘Stop apologizing,’ she laughs.

He introduces himself. ‘I’m Howard Fallon. I teach History. You’re standing in for Finian Ó Dálaigh?’

‘That’s right,’ she says. ‘Apparently he’s going to be out till Christmas, whatever happened to him.’

‘Gallstones,’ Howard says.

‘Oh,’ she says.

Howard wishes he could unsay gallstones. ‘So,’ he rebegins effortfully, ‘I’m actually on my way home. Can I give you a lift?’

She cocks her head. ‘Didn’t you have a meeting?’

‘Yes,’ he remembers. ‘But it isn’t really that important.’

‘I have my own car, thanks all the same,’ she says. ‘But I suppose you could carry my books, if you like.’

‘Okay,’ Howard says. Possibly the offer is ironic, but before she can retract it he removes the stack of binders and textbooks from her hands and, ignoring the homicidal looks from a small clump of her pupils still mooning about the corridor, walks alongside her towards the exit.

‘So, how are you finding it?’ he asks, attempting to haul the conversation to a more equilibrious state. ‘Have you taught much before, or is this your first time?’

‘Oh –’ she blows upwards at a wayward strand of golden hair ‘– I’m not a teacher by profession. I’m just doing this as a favour for Greg, really. Mr Costigan, I mean. God, I’d forgotten about this Mister, Miss stuff. It’s so funny. Miss McIntyre.’

‘Staff are allowed to use first names, you know.’

‘Mmm … Actually I’m quite enjoying being Miss McIntyre. Anyhow, Greg and I were talking one day and he was saying they were having problems finding a good substitute, and it so happens that once upon a time I had fantasies of being a teacher, and I was between contracts, so I thought why not?’

‘What’s your field normally?’ He holds open the main door for her and they step out into the autumn air, which has grown cold and crisp.

‘Investment banking?’

Howard receives this information with a studied neutrality, then says casually, ‘I used to work in that area myself, actually. Spent about two years in the City. Futures, primarily.’

Excerpted from Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Murray. Published in 2010 by Faber And Faber, Inc. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Skippy Dies 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 94 reviews.
Quidd More than 1 year ago
The closest familiar story I can think of to compare this to would be Dead Poet's Society; but in my opinion Skippy Dies is even better. Masterful craftsmanship, very creative and these characters really live as they change with the events taking place around them. This is the kind of book you'll want to read again and perhaps even study from different perspectives. This book will make you think in more than one direction, on more than one level and somewhere among the characters you will see parts of yourself and people who were once a big part of your life. A great read.
ErikEckel More than 1 year ago
Rare is the book that speaks to your soul, reinforces interpretations of life events, justifies personal frustrations and entertains while simultaneously proving sensitive but brutally honest. Paul Murray's Skippy Dies does just that. Everyone (over 16) should read this novel. I read 40-50 books a year, I was an English major (so I read a lot then, too) and I honestly believe Skippy Dies is one of the top three most moving and insightful books I've ever read. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, ever put me in a bad mood the next day, as Skippy Dies did when certain plot events occurred. That's how invested I became in this title and its characters. I don't know that there's any higher compliment for a book.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Paul Murray must have labored hard to write a 661 page novel. The story is intricate, colorful characters have been created, and a variety of things happen to them. In the beginning, the reader is filled with optimism that the story will turn out to be a good one- after all, the author has filled up 661 pages! But it is not to be, as, in my opinion, the story takes turns that are simply not credible, written more for the shock value than any attempt to be real. The twists in the tale end up even more bizarrely, and, sad to say, knowing from the beginning that Skippy Dies, there is not much reason to keep reading. I give it four stars, though, because it is a work that includes some really good scenes, just not the sum of the parts.
Go4Jugular More than 1 year ago
Despite the sad inevitability the title suggests, and delivers on even in the Prologue, this is a entertaining, if at times darkly so, novel.  Numerous plot lines, both major and minor, intertwine seamlessly; the most amusing, because of the accuracy with which the author captures teenage boy relationships, dialogue, and humor, is that of Skippy and his friends.  The excitement and confusion of a first crush is evident as well in Skippy's pursuit of Lori, and the melancholy of (teacher) Howard's middle-age crisis hits close to home for those of us at a more...mature stage in our lives.  The characters are fully developed and, though I (thankfully) can't claim a boarding school background, the nature of such an experience, for both students and adults alike, seemed an accurate portrayal.  Thoroughly enjoyable!
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MattMarak More than 1 year ago
I received this book as a gift and, honestly, was ambivalent about reading it based on the plot summary. Glad I went for it because I absolutely loved it. I was hooked as the story expertly drew me in as it built up to the crossroads in each main character's life. Skippy is central to the story, but there is much more. While many of the most poignant scenes led me to reflect on my own life, just as many made me laugh out loud. "Skippy Dies" is high on my list of books that I've read over the past couple years.
Amelia90 More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy this book at all. I'm 21 years old so the concept of drugs and sex doesn't offend me at all..but this book just couldn't even keep my attention. I was very disappointed.
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