Demon Copperhead

Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2022. 560p. ISBN 9780063251922. $32.50. F
Paying homage to David Copperfield and a host of other coming-of-age novels, Kingsolver follows the eponymous narrator, Damon “Demon” Copperhead, from childhood to young adulthood as she chronicles his struggle—and that of his Southern Appalachian community—against generational poverty, the opioid epidemic, and decades of prejudice and exploitation of the region’s natural resources. Born to a single mother who is addicted to drugs, Demon is put through a host of cruel and abject paces—homelessness, an overextended and thus neglectful child welfare system, abusive foster care situations, and a heart-rending love affair. There are moments of grace when Demon’s community and family step up or step in to support him, especially his next-door neighbors, the Peggots. However, even these Samaritans have their shortcomings, like the local football coach who leads him to stardom but also addiction.
VERDICT Kingsolver has successfully created an authentic voice for her teenage protagonist, a voice at once heartbreaking, humorous (often at his own expense), and ultimately resilient. This highly recommended work is an excellent read in conjunction with Beth Macy’s Dopesick and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (both nonfiction) and novels like Tess Gunty’s The Rabbit Hutch and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.
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