Probably one of the most rewarding novels I’ve read in a while (and be forewarned is 600 pages, but a “fast” 600 pages), Skippy Dies takes place in a Catholic boys school in a small town in Ireland in the early 2000s. Like a lot of these schools (and this is seen as “one of the best” in Ireland at the time), there’s a history, there’s ghosts, and there’s a lot of drama at the school. In the opening scene, our title character, Skippy, dies at a donut shop and we don’t quite know why. It’s followed by a jump into a history classroom (the boys are about 13) as the various cast of boys and their history teacher Howard try to make it through a lesson. This juxtaposition begins to introduce us to the cast of characters, the ever-changing tone of the book, and the style. It takes some time for the shape of the book and the various characters to come out in contrast. The book circulates around Skippy and Ruprecht, roommates in the school, and their friends (although Ruprecht, the smartest and most annoying boy is only allowed because Skippy is so kind); Howard, his girlfriend, his classes, and his infatuation with the new geography substitute; and Carl a local low level drugdealer and older boy and Lorie, a rich girl from the girls school across from the boys school.
As you can imagine, we’re watching the events that take us back to opening scene of Skippy’s death. This is a book about cruelty, both intentional and unintentional, about what we know for sure about other people, and what we either only find out when it’s too late, or what we realize we never know, and lots of other things. It’s an incredibly tender book at times, deeply sad at others, unjust, and often hilarious. It’s one of the most humane books I’ve read in a long time.