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Driving with Dead People

Driving with Dead People

A Memoir

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Small wonder that, at nine years old, Monica Holloway develops a fascination with the local funeral home. With a father who drives his Ford pickup with a Kodak movie camera sitting shotgun just in case he sees an accident, and whose home movies feature more footage of disasters than of his children, Monica is primed to become a morbid child.

Yet in spite of her father's bouts of violence and abuse, her mother's selfishness and prim denial, and her siblings' personal battles and betrayals, Monica never succumbs to despair. Instead, she forges her own way, thriving at school and becoming fast friends with Julie Kilner, whose father is the town mortician.

She and Julie prefer the casket showroom, where they take turns lying in their favorite coffins, to the parks and grassy backyards in her hometown of Elk Grove, Ohio. In time, Monica and Julie get a job driving the company hearse to pick up bodies at the airport, yet even Monica's growing independence can't protect her from her parents' irresponsibility, and from the feeling that she simply does not deserve to be safe. Little does she know, as she finally strikes out on her own, that her parents' biggest betrayal has yet to be revealed.

Throughout this remarkable memoir of her dysfunctional, eccentric, and wholly unforgettable family, Monica Holloway's prose shines with humor, clear-eyed grace, and an uncommon sense of resilience. Driving with Dead People is an extraordinary real-life tale with a wonderfully observant and resourceful heroine.
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  • Gallery Books | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416955122 | 
  • March 2008
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Reading Group Guide

Driving with Dead People Reading Group Guide

  1. The first story Monica tells is of reading about Sarah Keeler's death and attending her funeral. Why do you think, as she says in the first sentence, that this "changes everything" (1)? How does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?

  2. Monica's dad loves recording other people's disasters, and creating disastrous circumstances for his family. What did you make of his odd hobby? What about his penchant for violence and putting his family at risk? Do you think there's a link?

  3. Discuss Monica's mother. Monica describes her as "a human cork; she floated to the top of any awful situation" (7). What are some examples that support her description? Are there any instances when her mother behaves differently? Did your opinion of her mother change at all over the course of the book?

  4. Monica is in an almost constant state of anxiety. What are the physical effects of her fear and uncertainty? What effects are less obvious?

  5. In order to protect herself, and because she is left to her own devices, Monica learns early on to be a close observer and to draw her own conclusions. How do those skills influence her writing? What nuances or details might be different if she had been a less attentive, and perhaps happier, child?

  6. Monica's childhood and adolescence are punctuated with death and she is both attracted to and frightened by it.
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About the Author

Monica Holloway
Photo Credit: Russell Baer

Monica Holloway

Monica Holloway is the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving with Dead People. She has contributed to the anthology Mommy Wars, from which her essay "Red Boots and Cole Haans" was described by Newsday as "brilliant, grimly hilarious." She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

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