Adolescence is its own kind of horror show, as anyone that lived through it can attest. I’m quite a few years removed from it myself, but reading Danger Slater’s Puppet Skin served as a striking, less-than-fond look back at that time—albeit through a warped and cracked lens.
Hannah is on the verge of graduation, facing a future that’s long been
defined for her, and she’s not exactly happy about it. While most of her classmates anticipate the day with either anxiousness or indifference, Hannah’s instinct is to backpedal and ask questions about the future that keep her parents and teachers constantly on edge.
I know when I was on the verge of adulthood, I shared many of the same
fears Hannah feels in this situation, particularly an impending loss of identity and self. Adulthood was when it became mandatory to “grow up” and prepare for a career. What that meant to me was that it would soon be time to take the independence I’d fought so hard to earn from my parents and hand it over to complete strangers—college professors and advisors first, followed soon enough by a boss. I didn’t love the idea of my life and my future being in someone else’s hands.
Metaphorically, I thought I was about to become someone else’s puppet. In Puppet Skin, that’s the literal future Hannah faces. For her and her peers, graduation day is not about turning tassels and receiving a
diploma; it’s about going into a dark room, having your humanity and individuality scooped out, and emerging as an actual puppet, complete with strings coming down from the sky.
That Slater has taken such a potentially ridiculous concept and turned it into such a resonant piece of fiction is a tribute to the man’s talent. The character of Hannah, in particular, is quite an achievement; she could easily have come across as whiny and unsympathetic, but Slater smartly reveals the vulnerable heart that drives her. It’s not brashness or brattiness that fuels Hannah’s behavior, it’s fear—and the courage to voice that fear when those around her are content to simply fall in line.
At turns touching, funny, scary, and downright gross, Puppet Skin fully utilizes the horror genre’s unique ability to simultaneously entertain, confound, and illuminate. Highly recommended.