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Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver Review

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Genre: General Fiction

Oprah's Book Club selection

Published October 2022; 546 pages

After I finished the book and looked at the cover more closely, it was fun to recognize each of the items and their place in the story - great way to make a border! Kingsolver has said this is inspired by the classic David Copperfield, which I have not read. So I have no basis for comparison - this is judged entirely on its own merits.


Set in Appalachia (VA), this is the story of Damon (Demon), a young boy growing to teen in devastating circumstances. Telling his story, Demon describes what it's like to grow up trying to navigate living with a single mom with addictions, then an abusive stepfather, then alone and feeling unloved as he's bounced around the very broken foster system. Demon's voice is maybe the best part of this distressing, emotional story. It's authentic, it's tough-little-boy, it's broken and internally crying for help. It's so believable and "teenager"!

"But the wicked have a different head for numbers than most. Any bad they do will end up on the side of never-mind. What's done to them weighs double."

Demon searches his whole childhood for family, a place to belong and for someone to care. While I don't doubt the foster system is full of experiences like those represented, it was awfully bleak through the middle. As he finally finds a household that sort of accepts him, he turns out for the football team and basks in normalcy for a few months till an injury occurs. An addiction to pain medication develops.

"But it's not stupid that makes a bird fly, or a grasshopper rub its knees together and sing. It's nature. A junkie catches his flight. That sugar on your brain cells sucks away any other purpose. You can think you're in charge. Walk around thinking this for hours at a time, or a day, till the clock winds down and the human person you were gets yanked out through whatever hole the devil can find. Learn your less, get your feet up under you. You will be knocked down again."

His descent into drug addiction while still struggling to "adult" are heartbreaking. His artistic ability and a couple of teachers greatly influence him and keep him from going over the edge. There's a pretty long epilogue that wraps up everything - like in a movie where the words scroll at the end with what happened to each character.


Told in first person by Demon (Damon), the language, his 'voice' is so clear to the time and situation of his life. It's spectacularly well done. It's believable and so absolutely teenager, with just an occasional bit of 'adult' now and then as he tries to navigate the disaster that is his life.

I couldn't help but feel so much - sad, mad, distressed, heartbroken - that's what good writing can do to/for you, right? As with most Kingsolver books, there's a societal underpinning and this time it's drug use and how the lost, unloved, unwanted children are so susceptible to that sad lifestyle. The way Demon loses the battle seems very realistic to me which makes it hard to read sometimes.

I felt like the book was a bit too long - I started feeling like it needed to move along through the middle sometimes, but in spite of that, it's an excellent read.

Challenges Tagged:

Literary Escape (States): Virginia 1/51

Popsugar: book that's on celebrity book list 1/40

COYER 1st semester: 1

Library Love: 1/70

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