Book Review: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

At a Dutch bookfair I entered a competition to win Skippy Dies. I had to answer one question: How many calories are there in the 12 donuts that are on the cake stand on display? My guess was something like 2747 calories, which is a ridiculous amount because it’s not divisible by 12! But anyway, a few days later I got the book from the postman because my answer was one of the 10 best!

The Dutch hardback copy was enormous! What a tome! But a very enjoyable book.

Skippy Dies: What It Is About

The title says it all: Skippy dies. Skippy dies on page 12 already (in a donut shop, hence the donut competition). The rest of the book mainly tells the story of the events leading up to Skippy’s death, but there are also about 200 pages to describe what happened after he died.

The main characters are Daniel “Skippy” Juster and Howard Fallon, the latter a teacher at Seabrook, the school where Skippy boards. Howard’s nickname is Howard the Coward, because of an event that is explained much later in the book.

Skippy is about 14 years old and shares his room with a real nerd, Ruprecht van Doren, who carries out all kinds of physics experiments, endangering his own life and that of his friends. Skippy is not a populair guy either. At some point he gets involved with the girlfriend of Carl, a class mate of heavy caliber, and Skippy is now in real trouble. The relationship of Carl and the girl, Lori, consisted mainly of the giving and receiving of tranquillisers that can be used as diet pills.

Howard, the teacher, doesn’t enjoy his job. When a pretty temporary teacher gives him some suggestions as to how to improve his lessons, his job become more interesting but the lessons no longer fall within the curriculum of the school. Howard used to be a pupil at this school himself, that is managed by religious Fathers. He still knows a few people from the old days, former class mates or teachers, who are still there now. This makes him feel as if he never grew up, as if he never escaped secondary school.

Really the problems of Skippy and Howard are not that different. Howard is the adult, but still struggles with similar issues as Skippy. As we know, Skippy’s fate is sealed, but for the rest of the characters things don’t end particularly well either.

Skippy Dies: What I Thought

A beautiful book, but a bit too long. Eventually all the elements of the story come together and maybe there isn’t all that much that could be left out of the story, but half-way through the book I found it becoming a bit much. A lot happens, there are a lot of characters (that I couldn’t all keep apart for a long time), but why do I need to know all this?

The eventual story, when it all comes together is dramatic, educational and unpleasant.

During the story I started to care about Skippy and wished that his life would become a little easier to handle for him. But oh no! He was going to die! It was rather unimaginable that this friendly, insecure, in-love Skippy would kick the bucket. But of course he did, and after that, the story falls a bit apart for me.

Skippy is no longer, but Howard, who is doing less well in the meantime, still carries part of the story. In addition, Ruprecht, Skippy’s room mate, goes crazy after Skippy’s death (which happened in his presence), and there are other, less prominent, characters that take some of the limelight.

But because several revelations are made, the book is still fun to read. And still new things are happening.

A really nice book with recognisable teenage issues, and also a few of which you hope that they will not happen to your own teenagers.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: won it at a book fair from the publishers

I read this in: Dutch, the original language is English

Number of pages: 664

First published: 2011 (Dutch, English edition Skippy Dies published 2010)

Genre: contemporary fiction, coming of age


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

33 Responses to Book Review: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

  1. Great review, Judith and we seem to be in agreement about this book, up to the point where we gave it the same rating. Just in case you’re curious, here’s my review:

  2. I thought about purchasing the Kindle version, but then I wasn’t sure that I would like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I agree with your assessment of the novel…there are a lot of parts that doesn’t seem all that important, but it does all come together to make a funny/sad book. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book.

  4. Nadine Nys says:

    I am glad you liked it, Judith. I really did.

  5. I have avoided this book, like The Book Thief, because I just hate it when books center on bad things happening to children. But it does sound like a very well written book, and many of my friends have enjoyed it. I’m glad you did!

  6. Cindy says:

    I think I’ll buy the book for my daughter 🙂

  7. Tony says:

    This is one I’d like to get around to at some point, once I’ve managed to wean myself off the idea that it’s a sad story about the demise of a kangaroo…

  8. I’ve heard such great things about this book, and it was recommend to me. I may have to add to my 2012 TBR list. Great review too.;

  9. Brooks says:

    Great review! I think I loved it more than you did, but I’m glad that you at least enjoyed it!

    My favorite section of the book was the part when Howard took his class on an unauthorized field trip. Probably the best writing in the book and it really hit a nerve!

  10. BermudaOnion says:

    I didn’t realize this book is that long. It sounds like it’s worth reading, even if it’s a little too long.

  11. Joanna says:

    Ooh, I’ve been wondering about this book, somehow the info I had so far didn’t grab me. Your post makes me want to read it though! 🙂

  12. Aths says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this one sometime. The size is kind of scaring me away, but since everyone pretty much liked/loved this book, I’m all for it.

  13. JoV says:

    I suppose because your answer is not divisible by 12 it is closer to the true count than the ones who are divisible by 12! LOL… this book kept popping up on my radar and I’m thinking should I or should I not read it. All good reviews about it, maybe later. 😉

  14. I enjoyed this book a bit more than you did. I didn’t think it was too long (and I think the fact you say that you don’t know any bit that should have been removed says a lot) I loved the fact it allowed me to reminisce about some aspects of my childhood – perhaps yours didn’t have the same little things happen and so this accounts for why you enjoyed it a bit less than I did?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Not sure, Jackie. I think my childhood wasn’t too different from Skippy’s – or at least, I could recognise enough of it. But I must say, I’m not much of a coming-of-age reader so books that spend too much time in childhood start to bore me that bit sooner.

  15. You read Dutch? What?!!? That’s so cool!

    Anyway, on to my main comment: This one has been on my wishlist for quite a while. It looks as though it definitely belongs on my shelf! Thanks for the review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Actually, Julie, I *am* Dutch and live in the Netherlands. But we learn English to a reasonable standard and so you’ll find quite a few Dutch that also read English. I lived in England for a long time, so that helps.

  16. Cmixgeek says:

    This was a fantastic book that stayed with me for a very long time… I had a slightly different take on it than you did but enjoyed your review and the comments that followed. I couldn’t help but feel this entire book was a commentary on isolation and our inability to connect with each other. Pretty depressing, really, but Paul Murray had just the right amount of humor to keep it interesting and just the right ‘teenage’ details to keep it real. Thanks for the review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Cmixgeek. It seems you liked the book a bit more than me. I think you could be right about it being a commentary on isolation/connecting with others, but to be honest, I think lots of books are like that. I’m reading a totally different book at the moment, A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French, and that is all about not communicating with other people (it doesn’t compare to Skippy Dies, though).

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