Skippy Dies

My lunch breaks at work are admittedly weird. Most days I don't have a regular 12:00 lunch break, other days I won't have one until 11:00 am. It's a brilliant way to throw off my scent. I will get hungry at 11 every morning, and on certain days by the time 12:00 rolls around and I've already eaten my lunch, it's like "Well Now What?" The Library, my friends. It's only a few blocks away.
There was something about this cover that really grabbed me. If I'm honest, it was probably the illustrations on the spine. Also the title - so, the story is about a main character who dies with ample warning? I'm super intrigued.

This book may be in the running for "The Best Thing I've Read so Far This Year." It's got so much going for it: sad, hilarious, and truthful. There are tons of characters - none of them boring - so while the story may encircle "Skippy" dying, It barely even touches on to that. Daniel "Skippy" Juster is a shy, awkward, teen-aged boy attending a prestigious Irish-Catholic school for boys, who is infatuated with a girl named Lori who attends a neighboring Catholic school for girls. He dies during a doughnut eating contest in the opening of the book, and the rest of the novel explores the events leading up to this, then touches back around the explain what happens in the aftermath.
It's really more of a character study, which may well be why I love it. While the novel is "Irish," I hate calling it that - like it's a gimmick. It's really about a cast of screwball teen-aged boys, their history teacher who is watching as his life comes apart at it's seams, M-Theory, The Great War, young love, mature love, drug abuse, and relationships in general. It's hilarious, but intelligent. I initially compared it to Confederacy of Dunces, but now I see that it isn't really. It's almost to honest - painfully honest.
Take Howard, Skippy's history teacher - he may be the real star of this novel. He's a good man, but earned the title "Howard the Coward" because of his ability (even during his own years as a student attending Seabrook - the very same school he teaches at) to - as we say in Louisiana - "crawfish out" of a situation. In other words, to back out when the going gets tough. He did it with his long-time girlfriend, he does it with his career, he does it when he has an honest to goodness good reason to stand up and do the right thing, but ends up bullied out of it. There are times, however, when Howard isn't such a coward. He will, in fact, go to the mat for the boys, even though he has a hard time figuring out if it's worth the effort - if they even respect him at all. I enjoyed Howard - he stands out to me, as he might for many other readers. He reminds me of Martin Freeman - just kind of a plain bloke. Nothing special, you wouldn't think, but he always comes through in a way that is unexpectedly heroic.
And let's not over look Skippy's friends. There's a genius boy who is completely socially unaware (point and case why I thought of Confederacy of Dunces when I first read this book) and the other adorably teenaged assholes. Mario perhaps being my absolute favorite (an Italian boy who thinks he is God's gift to women - when really he is so, so obviously, naively wrong). Lori, Skippy's crush, being like any other girl I might know (can wet-dreams make you pregnant???) starting off as a spoiled brat, but growing up before the end of the novel.

I could talk forever about the characters - there are so many great ones - but I think you get the idea. This was one of the best written and well thought out novels I've read this year. I wouldn't let it float away and out of your radar.

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