Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Review by Elisabeth Martin Rogers

Demon Copperhead tells the life of Damon, who among everyone else in the novel, has a nickname - Demon. He has fiery red hair and a world of trouble resting on his shoulders. He grows up in the Appalachians at first with his mother, then gets tossed into the whirlpool of foster care. I immediately got attached to Demon and wanted nothing more than to see him find some peace in life. The novel is fiction, but it addresses some very real struggles people face in life, particularly with addiction and trauma.

There is an underlying narrative about stereotypes of Appalachian people. Demon himself is Melungeon, and there is talk about how city-folk perceive people from Appalachia as redneck hillbilly addicts that amount to nothing in life. Kingsolver does lean heavily into the problem of addiction and how much it riddled Demon’s town, but in the same vein we see successes in these people’s lives where they pursue goals they were told they couldn’t accomplish. I think the story does a good job of showing how someone can go completely down the wrong path, but with support and opportunity they can come back from it.

We learn of the hard work it takes to survive in a world pitted against you from the start. I have seen opioid addiction and the representations in this book are dead on. People do not typically try opioids for the fun of it then get addicted - they are prescribed them by a trusted physician for real pain, then not given the tools to use them properly or safely. This is another very real issue Kingsolver addresses. While Demon may be a fictional character, we all know someone like him. This is why I appreciate the novel so much.

Some of you may be thinking the name of this book is similar to that of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. You would be right! Demon Copperhead is a reimagining of David Copperfield, but it is still a strong stand alone. The names of popular characters remain, but they are not an exact replica. Kingsolver encapsulates the chaos of life that Dickens put forth in his novel, but uses modern tribulations and descriptions that are more relevant to the times (and easier to get through as a reader).

Demon Copperhead is a novel for those with a strong heart, willing to dive into the uncomfortable life of a lost child just trying to figure it all out. It will teach you life lessons and open your mind to systematic issues that need our attention. You will have favorite and despised characters, and I hope you enjoy this thought provoking book like I did. It is no wonder that Demon Copperhead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2023.

Trigger Warning: Drug use and addiction, sexual misconduct