I have an admission straight off the bat – I’ve never read Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, on which Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead is based.
Despite this hole in my background knowledge, Demon Copperhead was a fantastic read.
Demon lives in an area of deprivation in the US and he might be considered labelled with descriptions such as, ‘country bumpkin’ by outsiders. His mother was an addict and before long he finds himself in the woeful foster care system.
It is distressing to read about the conditions Demon, and presumably real children who encounter the US (and most likely, Australian) foster care system face.
Then, there is the lure of opioids which doctors are keen to dispense, causing widespread addiction that ravages this tough and resourceful community.
However, this book is never without a sense of hope; there is the love and tenacity of neighbours, the dedication of school teachers, the glory of the football field and the kindness at Demon’s heart.
There are some moments of despair, but there is still a sense that redemption is possible. And it is the skill of Kingsolver to make the reader so invested in Demon’s future.
This is a highly readable, emotionally challenging and deeply satisfying novel.