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Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead is the story of a young man growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Right from the outset you know this is going to be one heck of a story. Demon is the narrator and takes the reader on an amazing journey through the life of a minority kid growing up in a small town in America.

Demon (Damon) and his alcoholic mother live in a trailer home. Demon’s father is dead and his mother is struggling to keep herself clean. As a self-described ‘redneck’ he has a tumultuous start in life. When his mother dies of a drug overdose, after getting involved with another man (who resents Demon and his close bond with his mother), he becomes a foster child. He spends time in different foster homes, generally being treated awfully by the foster parents.

Eventually he ends up in the home of a football coach, who sees the promise in this young kid and it seems things are starting to turn around for him. However, he suffers a football injury and ends up getting hooked (not intentionally) on prescription drugs. His life takes another turn and he’s back in a desperate situation again.

Although the story sounds heavy, it is also a very enlightening and often funny. Demon is smart and lovable and his observations are insightful. Just what is a redneck? What is it like to grow up with a label because you are from a multiracial background (Demon’s father was Melungeon, which is a mix of European, Native American and sub-Saharan African)? This is small town America, where prescription and other drugs are a huge problem, where nobody seems to travel very far. Demon yearns to see the ocean and he just might get there one day.

Yet it is also a place of family and friendship. Of loyalty, and growing up and being mature in advance of your years. It’s a story of how fate can change the trajectory of your life.

It has been a four year wait for Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel to arrive. At over 500 pages it is clear that a lot of time and energy has gone into its creation. I have always been a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver, and this latest book is up there with my favourites. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Rachel White

Faber & Faber


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