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Driving with Dead People

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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.

327 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2007

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About the author

Monica Holloway

5 books51 followers
Monica Holloway is the critically acclaimed author of the memoirs "Cowboy & Wills" and "Driving With Dead People." She contributed to the anthology Mommy Wars, from which her essay Red Boots and Cole Haans was described by Newsday as brilliant, grimly hilarious. Holloway lives with her family in Los Angeles."

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5 stars
1,458 (26%)
4 stars
2,274 (41%)
3 stars
1,346 (24%)
2 stars
335 (6%)
1 star
74 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 549 reviews
14 reviews
August 11, 2008
This book was written by a woman from my hometown. She was a year behind me in high school. She has changed all the names of people and places in this memoir but I recognized them all.
Her story proves you never know what is really going on in someone else's life.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,200 reviews269 followers
September 12, 2014
I wished there had been obvious signs of destruction on all of us kids: bruises or burn marks, something that indicated how violent our house was, but words and neglect don't leave visible marks.

3.5 stars. I read this book in two sittings, even though I thought it was off to a slow start. I loved that the author's perspective changed as she grew up. When she described things that happened to her at the start of the book, from a child's point of view, everything was almost fine with her. Describing these same behaviors/situations as she got older, we got a very different view of them as she then sees them through the eyes of an adult. So when I just started reading this book I kept on thinking - really! none of the things happening to her is so bad, why write a memoir about it. But that's only because kids don't know any better, and will adapt to almost any situation. It's only as we get older and realize that this is not the norm, and that it's very bad for me that we see things for what they are.

I also loved the fact that she shows how people can react differently to the same situation. She also does not judge her brother or sisters for all choosing their unique way of coping with their upbringing.

I just have to say that I have never despised a mother as much as I did in Driving with Dead People. What a horrible, selfish, hypocritical person.

I highly recommend this memoir, if you are happy to read upsetting stories, that have realistic (no Hollywood treatment) endings.
Profile Image for Melissa.
63 reviews6 followers
April 15, 2008
I read Glass Castle over a month before this book and I've come to a profound conclusion. I may not have had my parents as long as I'd wanted, but they were great parents. The girl in Glass Castle and now Monica Halloway, both endured child abuse most of their lives and their parents were around a LONG time. My mom died when I as 24 and my dad when I was 17; I may have been a little sheltered, but they brought me up VERY well. I always felt loved, that they were proud of me, and if they were disappointed in me, I KNEW it, I FELT it in my heart, and I never wanted to do it again. NO child deserves ANY type of abuse, and the worst part of these books was the fact I could NOT put it down. I admire these two women (Jeanette Walls & Monica Halloway)for their courage to tell their stories and to move on with their lives after the abuse they endured.
Profile Image for Shelley.
30 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2008
This book was a surprise. You think that it's going to be about this little girl who ends up having an obsession with death and the mortuary and the story ends up being about something totally different. Great story but it's not a "good feeling" book, if that is what you are looking for.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,850 reviews359 followers
March 19, 2017
The book greatly affected me and I can't tell you how or why without spoilers.

2017 Lenten nonfiction Buddy Reading Challenge book #36
Profile Image for Pamela.
54 reviews27 followers
February 28, 2012
I would give this memoir 2.5 stars if I could. But with the plethora of good, thoughtful, emotive and cathartic memoirs out there (Liar's Club, The Glass Castle), I can't say I gained much from this book aside from an interesting story. The writing missed an ingredient that indicates introspection, compassion, even rage. For all the dysfunction (and I come from a highly dysfunctional background that might even eclipse this), I could never get behind this writer. She reported her story to us, rather than lived it with us. Her friendship with the Kilner family is not developed to the extent she hints at throughout the memoir. Generally there are uneven leaps backward and forward without interludes or reflections that provide the poetry necessary to elevate this from a sad tale of sub-par parenting.
Profile Image for Kendra.
183 reviews8 followers
February 14, 2009
I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. It wasn't that it was a bad story per se, it was just that to me what makes memoirs good is that either #1 People can look back and laugh at their dysfunction (because we are all a little dysfunctional) or #2 That they can look back and say they have learned from their experience and that they have overcome what may have been a bad childhood or whatever. This book does not do that. Throughout the whole book, the author still seems bitter and resentful about the experiences that she had in her childhood. I understand that, but it doesn't make for a good memoir. She should really seek some counseling and try to move on with her life. I wouldn't recommend this book unless you are really really bored and desperate.
Profile Image for Alice.
102 reviews
September 2, 2008
Not for the faint of heart. So sad and disturbing. The abuse the father inflicts on this family and the blind eye the mother turns to her children made me feel ill.
Profile Image for Amanda.
29 reviews7 followers
April 19, 2007
An intriuging true story of a girl who has a horrific childhood addled with both abuse and sheer indifference at the hands of her parents. Holloway becomes obsessed with death, as she sees this as the only viable option in her dark life, and ends up befriending the daughter of the town's funeral home owner. Most kids have a summer job flipping burgers or scooping ice cream, Holloway spent summers in her teenage years driving with dead people, literally picking up dead bodies at the local airport and driving them back to the funeral home in the hearse. As we follow her into adulthood, the stories from her childhood develop more meaning and the terrible truth comes out at last.
Profile Image for Beth.
197 reviews
February 3, 2016
Wow. What a ride. I kept thinking of Jeannette Walls and The Glass Castle. I don't know how people can share their deepest, darkest personal experiences like this. It had to be very therapeudic for the author. She is a survivor and I hope her parents burn in hell.
Profile Image for Colleen Chi-Girl.
610 reviews99 followers
November 16, 2009
Oh Monica Holloway! THIS BOOK IS NOT TO BE MISSED....but don't expect to feel giddy or happy whilst reading it (always wanted to say "whilst"). It's incredibly comedic while at the same time, incredibly heart-wrenching.

This author keeps you entranced with her fast-paced, real-life childhood encounters. She kept me laughing and crying, with my mouth open at times.

The hardest things about this book, and I found there were 2, were putting it down before midnight so I could get a decent night's sleep, and realizing this is a memoir.... it's REAL....which was incredibly heart-breaking.

SPOILER: No one should experience what this author did as a child, and I wanted to believe it was fabricated b/c it was too much to be true. Where were her guardian angels, damn it!?

Her incredible ability to talk about her life and self in a self-deprecating way, and to have you laugh and cry with her....were just incredible. I couldn't put this book down. She has an easy to read style, a great way of setting the story in the context of her youth in the Midwest, in the '60-70's - and loved her references to clothing, styles, etc., and she is just, well, so likable and FUNNY.

I'm almost done with this book and will finish my review later. And I heard this book will soon be a movie (2009) so you may want to read it beforehand.

I first read an essay of Monica's in the book The Mommy Wars titled "Red Boots and Cole Haans" - Google it and see if you find an excerpt. It's about Monica's child....a must-read.

I finished the book but really have nothing else to add to this - it says it all.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,080 reviews7 followers
August 27, 2016
3 ½ stars

This is an honest and painful memoir that’s not for the faint hearted.

The first 1/3 of the book is very reminiscent of Glass Castle, with the same humor and almost lightly detached recollection of really very painful childhood memories. However the main difference between these books were that the parents in Glass Castle who, although inadequate, actually loved their kids in some twisted way.

What a piece of shit Monica’s dad was – constantly out to humiliate or physically hurt his kids all in the guise of horsing around and “playing” with them.

No wonder Monica was a bed wetter up to the age of 9. The mother was not much better but during Monica’s childhood years she was the lesser of the two evils.

The book shows how all 4 kids deal with this dysfunctional upbringing, showing the scars they carry to adulthood. The protagonist experiences so much her young mind cannot possibly process. And in the end, the pain is too great to bear alone so she seeks help in some of the wrong places.

I found the sections describing Monica’s time at the mortuary and her experiences with embalmment, very interesting and am thankful that there were funny moments interspersed through this mostly dark tale.

The ending came as a kick in the stomach and was difficult to read. It also came across loud and clear that Monica still holds onto a lot of anger about her childhood so unlike other memoirs, which show closure or acceptance, this one has an ending that feels unfinished.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
201 reviews93 followers
January 20, 2014
I don't know why I didn't review this book when I read it. It was fabulous! What a ride! Funny. Sad. Uncomfortable. Heart stirring. Get ready to go green light brain food. Insanely creative, beautiful, at times razor sharp, and magnificent prose. Emotionally compelling. Achingly searching. Gut and soul honest. Utterly unique and one of a kind.
I can't describe the characters without creating spoilers. You will love one and some, and loathe others.
One of my top reads for 2013 and likely for many years to come.

I turned to my 'to-read' list on goodreads today having forgotten the title of this book but determined to find it. Why today, I can't say. I had images of characters and settings pop into my mind out of nowhere. I'm yearning for a book that could make me feel the way this one did. If you want a book that makes you pine for it as this one has me doing, then this may very well be the book for you. My heart is pounding thinking about it. Run and look into "Driving with Dead People." I promise you have never read anything like this before - SO MUCH MORE THAN GOOD!!!

I hope Monica Holloway has written many more books. As soon as I stop typing I'm going in search of them. I WANT THEM NOW!
Will try to return to write a "real" review.
Profile Image for Samantha.
196 reviews3 followers
February 2, 2009
I have to sit back and ask myself, how is it this person is still alive and, according to the epilogue (and book deal) thriving? For someone as obsessed with death, dying and suicide as Holloway is after surviving an abusive, indifferent upbringing and one mentally destructive relationship after another, I am amazed she didn't step in front of the subway car the many, many times she mentions she was going to. My continued reading of this book was less interest and more like seeing an accident (a train wreck!) that I just couldn't look away from. Not the worst memoir ever, but close. It doesn't seem she learns anything as things go on (and on and on...) and dooms herself to being the victim forever.

Definitely a sad, depressing read and I think the synopsis on dust jacket is misleading. Very little time is spent with the 'girl playing in the funeral home and eventually driving the hearse...' It is certain mentioned, but seems almost in passing. Her relationship with the family that owns the funeral home certainly is a saving grace in her life, it seems an afterthought which is a shame. The description of the embalming process was a nice break from the utter dispair in this book.

Not really recommended to anyone. Though it seems like a book Oprah would pick. I was pretty glad it was a bargain book AND 40% off in the Barnes and Noble After-holiday sale. It cost me less than $3.00 which is probably what the late fees at the library would have added up to.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
11 reviews
October 27, 2007
Books enter our lives through mysterious paths sometimes. I'd put this on my amazon wish list and seen it noted in the New Yorker. Then, for my final shoot for a magazine I was parting ways with, I was asked to photograph the author. Not only is Monica's story told with tremendous candor and wit, after becoming friends I learned first hand how authentically voice comes through in the narrative. As a big fan of the genre, too many memoirs are over written and lack the real voice behind the tale. This book, for all it's tragedy and comedy, is truly special.
3 reviews
Currently reading
March 12, 2009
This book is a page turner. Everytime I open it, the time flys by and before I know it I have been reading for a few hours. Monica Holloway is a wonderful author. Im looking forward to reading other by her.
Profile Image for Jennifer Lauck.
Author 22 books280 followers
March 13, 2010
Monica has become a friend of mine, so I cannot possibly say a bad thing about her book! It's wonderful, funny, stunningly sad and heroic. I love this book and recommend it to students for humor and just damn good story telling.
Profile Image for Tammy.
199 reviews35 followers
August 10, 2015
This one is going on my favorites shelf. It might not be appropriate reading for all as the author tells the story of her dysfunctional youth and family. I enjoyed her attitude/perspective and related to her ultimate 'moving on' to capture a life that feels happy for her.
Profile Image for Sharon Huether.
1,475 reviews10 followers
July 14, 2018
Monica narrates her story, with profound humor, wit and the reality of abuse.
She is the heroine trying to take care of her older siblings and herself.
It was a page turner. It's truth and rawness will remaine with me for a long time.
112 reviews3 followers
November 20, 2019
I wanted to give this book 5 stars but changed my mind after much deliberation and discussion with a book club I attend.
If you think this book has anything to do with a person who works at a mortuary, you are wrong. Does that count as a spoiler?
I was misguided by the book’s summary which frustrated and annoyed me at times.
Instead this memoir follows the author from young childhood to adulthood with unsettling descriptions of abuse and neglect. She discusses her attempts to bind the family members together with heartbreaking results.
The book read like a novel which was wonderful since I am not a fan of memoirs that drag through every minute detail of the author’s life. Once I gave up my expectations of the book and allowed myself to read what the author intended, I found it to be very interesting.
If someone is interested in writing a book about working in a mortuary, I would be interested in reading it.
55 reviews
November 6, 2020
Memoirs are so incredibly interesting and this was a reminder that no one really knows what goes on behind the front door of someone else's home. Little Monica, how could you not love her? I did and am left happy that through all the struggles of a severely dysfunctional family, she survived. And what a heart! I would like to know her. Peace to you, Monica!
Profile Image for Sarah Shimshock .
61 reviews2 followers
March 26, 2017
Excellent, excellent, excellent! Heartbreaking and dark, yet lighthearted and told with such hope.
130 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2018
The title of the book intrigued me, so I got it from the library. It turns out that her summer job for the funeral home plays a minor role in the story. Clearly it is about disfunction in her family - a mean and nasty father and an oddly distant and neglectful mother. I wasn't prepared for the disclosure of abuse and think I would have appreciated some foreshadowing or liner notes to prepare me for it. The author is a good writer, with a wry perspective on the disfunction. I found that the book lagged when things got more normal in her life. In the epilogue we learn that she is now happily married and her sister is also doing well. I would have liked the book to include more about their healing process.
Profile Image for Deborah.
417 reviews247 followers
February 24, 2010
I found this memoir to be very "novelish" in the writing style. Kept having to remind myself it was actually the telling of the family life of the author. Somehow it made the book slightly unbelievable to me. I had a difficult time reaching down inside to capture my feelings for this child/young woman and her poor family...and I'm not quite sure why. Possibly because it isn't until the end of the memoir that we get a sense of her true feelings and the pain she actually felt. I know that in many cases of the sort this abused and neglected household of children experienced they learn to suppress their feelings so deeply, they have a difficult time all their lives in expressing them in any way. It's my feeling that when reading this memoir we are looking into exactly that condition that the author is experiencing. She seems to express inappropriate humor where I found sadness and horror. All in all this is a book, though, that I can't stop reading. I have to know the conclusion. I have to know how the children learn to live.

I recommend this book. However, I would recommend it for the Kindle (which is how I purchased it) or for waiting on the paperback issue. It's not worth the hardback cost.
Profile Image for Keri.
160 reviews3 followers
April 10, 2021
What you think is going to be a story about a twisted, young girl who develops a fascination for death, dead people, and mortuaries, is really a heartbreaking tale of Monica Holloway’s horrific childhood where she and her siblings endured both physical and verbal abuse at the hands of their parents.

In search of a respite from her dysfunctional family, Monica befriends the daughter of the local mortician and owner of the funeral home. At the mortuary Monica feels safe, feels like she belongs, and almost as if she has more in common with the dead than her own family.

Another review I read mentioned that in the portions of the story where Monica is a young child, things didn’t seem that bad. As she got older, and her perspective changed, the actions of her parents became more disturbing. I thought this was a very interesting point because while Monica’s parent’s actions were always questionable and at times despicable, children don’t know any better. It was as if we got to grow up and learn with Monica. I loved seeing that evolution.

Seeing how each sibling reacted to their family dynamic and coped with the abuse was also pretty eye-opening. Different people will react differently to the same situation—that was perfectly demonstrated here.
October 31, 2007
This is a really fasinating book. This girl is growing up in a home where the dad is obsesed with death and stops to take pictures of cars accidents, the mother goes back to school and becomes neglectful and not to mention, her best friend's family runs the town's funeral home. As she grows it becomes apparent to her that her life is screwed up and waiting to come is her parents' biggest betrayal yet. It is truely a beautiful memoir of one girl's refusal to be put down despite her family.

This woman showed me that no matter how bad things get, it can always get better. You just have to take control of your own fate and will things to be better. She is an inspiration with how much she overcame. I loved this book.
Profile Image for Kristie.
84 reviews4 followers
May 12, 2011
This memoir brought back many memories for me--the HR Pufinstuf lunchbox (which I never got to have but longed for) and the elephant bells (which I unfortunately owned and wore). The story gets deeper and deeper as the author realizes things about her childhood and her family. It took turns I did not expect but Ms. Holloway wrote about them in an honest, raw way that made for an intriguing story.

I was a little disappointed that after reading the book, I flipped back to the front and read the note from the author. It stated the usual that the names of people and schools used were changed but also that some of the characters were actually composites. I guess that is done to simplify the story for the reader but for me, it also somewhat fictionalizes the memoir.
Profile Image for Laren.
490 reviews
June 12, 2007
I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. From the title, you might expect this to be the memoir of the daughter of a mortician or something similar. Instead, she uses a recurring theme of death to recount significant events in her life starting at age 8. The use of death is not morbid, but rather, builds to bring the author through a different kind of death altogether. I think that part is meant to be a surprise to the reader, so I won't elaborate. Suffice it to say this book is very well constructed, mostly entertaining, but also horrifying and very sad. Don't read it if you don't like being put through an emotional wringer!
Profile Image for Kendra.
890 reviews
January 6, 2008
This memoir spans Monica Holloway's life from age 8 to the present time. I found the parts about her wholly dysfunctional childhood much more interesting than the later sections (especially tale after tale of all of the mistakes she made during her college and post-college years), but the entire book is very readable and compelling, and it's really sad that it took so long for the author to find the kind of settled life that she deserved. (The title, by the way, comes from the section of the book in which she works part-time picking up corpses at the airport with a friend whose family owns a funeral home.)
Profile Image for Karen Germain.
805 reviews51 followers
July 8, 2008
I've managed to read a lot of memoirs about screwed up families, but I think this one takes the cake. I didn't know which parent to be more livid at. I cannot even imagine how Holloway managed a semi normal life after such a messed up childhood. On a side note, I found all of the funeral parlor stuff to be fascinating. Parts of this book are not for the faint of heart.
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