cover image Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver. Harper, $29.99 (560p) ISBN 978-0-06-325192-2

Kingsolver (Unsheltered) offers a deeply evocative story of a boy born to an impoverished single mother. In this self-styled, modern adaptation of Dickens’s David Copperfield, Demon Copperhead, 11, is the quick-witted son and budding cartoonist of a troubled young mother and a stepfather in southern Appalachia’s Lee County, Va.; eventually, his mother’s opioid addiction places Demon in various foster homes, where he is forced to earn his keep through work (even though his guardians are paid) and is always hungry from lack of food. After a guardian steals his money, Demon hitchhikes to Tennessee in search of his paternal grandmother. She is welcoming, but will not raise him, and sends him back to live with the town’s celebrated high school football coach as his new guardian, a widower who lives in a castle-like home with his boyish daughter, Angus. Demon’s teen years settle briefly with fame on the football field and a girlfriend, Dori. But stability is short-lived after a football injury and as he and Dori become addicted to opioids (“We were storybook orphans on drugs”). Kingsolver’s account of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the social fabric of Appalachia is drawn to heartbreaking effect. This is a powerful story, both brilliant in its many social messages regarding foster care, child hunger, and rural struggles, and breathless in its delivery. (Oct.)