Passing Strange by Daniel Waters is a Generation Dead novel. While I think the book is most effective read within the series it can stand alone. I’m going to outline some major issues it deals with and then talk about the plot.
“I pretended I wasn’t depressed. I pretended I wasn’t in love–look where that got me. I pretended lots of other thing too, and now I’m pretending I’m alive.”
Issues It Deals With
“sometime almost feeling alive is worse than not feeling alive at all. When I was depressed, that’s what I felt like, like I was almost alive. And knowing I’d never quite make it the rest of the way” (Waters 144)
Karen became a zombie because she killed herself, and in this book she explores why she did it, “the blue fog took me away” (145). Throughout the book Karen brings up a “fog” of sadness that prevented her from enjoying or even fully participating in life. She was held back by her depression, and it seemed to define her.
Waters uses Karen to argue that “there aren’t any reasons for most young suicides beyond depression, just triggers” (145). He also offers some ways of dealing with depression; “Friend who can listen are a good antidote to the fog” (177). In fact love and friendship seem to be what bring zombies back, the ones who have supportive families or relationships have better dexterity and speech. Love gets you through the zombish fog of depression.
I like that Waters doesn’t brush over Karen’s family’s reactions to her suicide. Her mother doesn’t want to deal with her at all, her father seems hurt and distant, and her sister doesn’t realize it ever happened. Her father’s private way of dealing with her death is explored in some detail later in the book (149), I won’t spoil it but it made me relate to him a lot better.
It takes a long time in the novel for her to come out and say it, but a factor in her suicide was her inability to come out of the closet. She talks about her confusion about her feelings, her denial to herself about being in love.
“I didn’t want to be gay. I was too scared to be gay.”(203)
She discusses how her fear of showing her true feelings in public or being seen with the girl she loved hurt that girl she was ashamed of. Karen had an extremely painful coming out to her mother, and partly because of this she continued to date boys even as a zombie. She has trouble reconciling her faith and her sexuality, and finds it easier to tell the priest she killed herself than telling him she is a lesbian. I’m definitely not an expert on the difficulties of having a minority sexual orientation but I think Waters did a good job at exploring the difficulty LGBQ teens face.
The Insightfulness of Young Children
Karen’s little sister Katy sees that there is prejudice going on and she doesn’t like it. Waters uses a scene of playing with Barbies to show that kids pick up on things. Katy makes her prettiest Barbie a zombie like her sister. She explains to Karen that no one likes this Barbie because she is dead, but that the Barbie shouldn’t be sad, because she still thinks she’s nice and pretty. This is Katy’s way of telling Karen she sees that she is being mistreated but she still loves her.
When Karen gets depressed again and spends all day in her room her very young sister comes to the conclusion that “the bad mans got you!” because she knows from overhearing adults that zombies are being slaughtered.
Prejudice in General
The zombies in Waters world have no civil rights; “We can’t get insurance. We can’t vote, we can’t get married. There isn’t much we can do” (92). This reminds me of in X-Men when Gene Gray goes to Washington to fight for mutant rights, even though in Passing Strange we only hear snippets from Tommy who has done just that.
Ok so now that I’ve talked about what issues Waters explores are you intrigued?
Karen is badly wounded in the attack that takes place at the end of Kiss Of Life but discovers that unlike any recorded zombie she has the ability to heal! In no time she is her beautiful self again and looks and moves more human than any of her undead friends. She dyes her hair, uses colour contacts, makeup and voila she can pass as human. She works at the mall pretending to be alive, partly to prove she can, partly to lay the way for future zombies and also because she likes being treated like a human. When Pete, the guy who killed Adam in Generation Dead, flirts with her and doesn’t recognize her from the time he threatened to kill her she sees an opportunity. Now she must tolerate dating Pete to get close and prove that he framed zombies for violence and prevent him from murdering her best friend.
I enjoyed the book a lot but maybe not as much as Generation Dead. It dealt more directly with the issues that were touched on briefly in the other books, this was great but slowed down the action. There were a few really suspenseful chapters that kept me up late because I couldn’t stop reading until I found out what happened. I will read pretty much anything Waters writes because he’s been consistently awesome.