Demon Copperhead, 2 – 7 – 23

Demon Copperhead, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver, was 548 pages of hard to read reality. Having grown up on a farm in the Midwest with loving parents and family, food in abundance and no idea that the world could be cruel I read this detailed book over the period of approximately a month. In other words I have been living with Demon long enough to immerse myself in his life.

Knowing this life is happening to many kids today just makes this story more appalling and sad. Life without parents lands a kid in sketchy foster care homes where monthly checks are infinitely more important than the kid himself. The kid becomes the family slave who doesn’t even deserve a bed to sleep in,

This is a story of foster care leading to drug addiction. I knew nothing about either and yes, the book is very sad – extremely sad but yet I couldn’t put it down. It pulled me in with details that were foreign to me and I feel more educated from reading it. Who could imagine such a life for a kid? Not me.

You retired schoolteachers would likely read this book with a better understanding of underprivileged kids, their lives and their exposure to drugs. I have led a sheltered life here on the farm – mostly by choice and drug addiction is something I’ve never experienced, never read about and never had any interest in.

I don’t know how to rate this book – it was well written, the story is a valid one yet the book is so sad and disturbing that I’m not sure if it’s a good book or just a chore to read. I do know that I couldn’t quit in the middle when it got slow. I was compelled to keep reading.

Demon Copperhead, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, is a story about a kid who fell through the cracks that led to drug addiction.

If you’ve read it please leave your thoughts in the comments.

52 thoughts on “Demon Copperhead, 2 – 7 – 23

  1. Lois Ann Johnson

    Your description of “Copperhead” reminds me of another novel we were all talking about a few years ago! I can’t remember the name of the book or the author but it was about a family during the Dust Bowl years and their struggle to survive. Sometimes I think it is good for us to read something like what you just read– to make us aware of things we know little about!

  2. Sandy

    Sadly Mary, this does happen in Foster Care more than imaginable. My daughter and her hubby did foster care for many years. One child ,whose mom was and still is a drug addict , took care of her sibling and at the age of 7 came into our family. Her Mom would take her “ dumpster diving “ behind the Mexican restaurant for chips so she had something to eat. She and her sibling are part of our family now. It was an arduous process and as you said, so very sad. My daughter and hubby adopted 2 more babies out of foster care. They got them just days old. We love them as our own but carry a sadness for the birth mom and her great loss because of drugs.

  3. Jane

    Our small book club read Deamon Copperhead. I agree with all of your comments. However one thing that did resonate with me was discussion of the evil opioid crisis that was allowed to destroy so many lives. I have a son that ended up in rehab for alcohol when he was a young man. The program he was in was all male and 60-80% at of the other clients were there because of an athletic injury. After their injury/surgery they were prescribed oxycontin and they very quickly became addicted. When they were no longer able to get a prescription they used an alternative drug or bought oxycontin illegally.
    I am happy to say my son is doing very well and my heart goes out to all those still struggling.
    While the book was very hard to read at times [ I also was fortunate enough to have a happy, safe rural childhood] I am glad I read the book.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Jane – interesting – why do athletic trainers/doctors prescribe it so freely knowing where it leads???

      1. Diane and the gang

        Good question. Our grandson had to have his wisdom teeth out at age 16. The dentist gave him 30 Pills for pain. OxyContin or one of those! He took one when he got home and one the next day and that was all. Our son , a HS teacher knew the” street value” of those pills. Our son was appalled that the destiny would prescribe so many! Those pills went to the “ turn in” that the police did. Ohio has had a terrible opioid crisis.

        1. Lisa B

          Both of my high school children got prescriptions for 20 or 30 of those Oxycotin pills when having their wisdom teeth out. My daughter took one and I turned the rest in at the police station. When my son had his wisdom teeth out a couple of years later I insisted the dentist write two separate prescriptions for 10 pills each and only had one filled. My son took 1 pill, I destroyed the other prescription and turned the rest into the bin at the police station. I asked other mothers what they did and I was shocked to find how many of their children took the entire prescription due to the amount of pain they were in. My kids said some classmates were selling their “leftover” pills. I wonder if the parents gave the whole prescription to their children and did not monitor it not realizing the dangers that could be involved.

  4. Billie

    As a former Foster parent, I can say some do it for all the wrong reasons. Believe me, the money is not the reasons we did it. It barely covers anything. It was the most wonderful experience of our lives. They all come with baggage, and at times they all have broken our hearts with some of their decisions that they have made since becoming adults. We were foster parents to many children over the years, and ended up adopting 4 of them. I think this is a book I might like to read. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  5. Sue H

    Very interesting commentary on this book. My name is on the library list to read the book. I definitely will give it a go! I feel like I’m prepared for it now!

  6. Jan Reid

    I also finished reading Demon Copperhead recently. It is a hard book to read , but worthy. I have read all that Kingsolver has to offer, and they too are important works. I would recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by her as well. A favorite of my recent reads is West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, it is an adventure!

        1. Mary Etherington Post author

          Kay – good to know! I’m heading to the library right now to look for another recommendation – I’ll let you know. How are you, Kay? Marshall?

  7. Donna Sproston

    I am a big fan of Kingsolver, and I think she accurately describes the opioid crisis and the worst of foster care. It was hard to read and hard to put down. As a junior high teacher, I met some wonderful foster parents and some who were in it for the money.. I also had students whose stories were heartbreaking. If only every child was wanted and nurtured.

  8. Diana in Des Moines

    Good review. Putting this on my to read list. We are parents to a child adopted from foster care. He was 4, now 31. Born to a drug addicted, alcoholic mother, he was and still is a mess. In and out of jail, drugs, theft. I imagine his life could have been much worse if we were not involved. We love him, but so hard to do anything for him when he makes the choices he does.
    Nice warm weather in Iowa today. Make the most of it!

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Diana – I’m sure you’ll find lots of similarities – review it for me when you’re done – from your personal perspective

  9. Lynn

    I just finished reading “Methland” about the drug problem in Oelwein, it was a jaw dropper for me.

  10. Vickie in Texas

    I haven’t read this book and don’t think I will. I did read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was deeply disturbing and I couldn’t stop reading. As I read, I felt my mood shift and friends said stop reading and I said no I can’t. It was very compelling.

  11. Patty Holland

    Mary…I finished Demon Copperhead last week and thought it was one of the better books I have read. Agreed very sad but also what life is like for some kids. If you want another good book to read, try The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Not as sad as Demon but a look into the life of a kid that is different. Sam has not blue or brown eyes, but red eyes. (I didn’t even know that was possible, but it is.). He has to struggle through childhood but does so in an extraordinary way. Everyone I have loaned this book to has really liked it.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Hi, Patty – yes, I’ve read it and liked it! Any other recommendations?

        1. Laura

          Yes, loved it. Then read A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility by the same author. Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite of the three.

  12. Jo in Wyoming

    I have very limited exposure to drug addiction. Most of the females I deal with in jail are there because of drugs and/or alcohol abuse. They open up very little but when they do, I try to let them know people do care about their success.
    Addiction is so strong, sometimes being locked up is better than being beaten up!

  13. Mercy

    I too read Demon Copperhead, which is so well written and so sad.
    My book club is reading a surprising book this month called The Southern Book Club Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. It’s about girl power and friendship. Check it out!

  14. Janet Beyea

    I thought Demon Copperhead is a beautifully written book about a hard subject. My quilt group donates quilts and supplies to children who live in this area. The stories we hear from teachers who work in this area are heartbreaking.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Janet – I agree it’s very well written – wonder how she did it.

  15. Kathy in western NY

    You opened my eyes Mary with this book’s subject matter. I know many foster parents who have given wonderful homes to children and adopted them after going though a grueling process of court appearances. I too have limited knowledge of drug addiction and rehab but so much starts in childhood or teenage years that forever changes their lives as I saw friends who went through it for many reasons like back injuries or just not coping after being in the service, a divorce, etc. It was sad knowing I could only help them to a point. I thank my stars every day I had two loving parents, a house full of siblings, chores to do to realize teamwork, and parents who freely gave food to those less fortunate. I hope you read something lighter next week to balance it out a little for your mind.

  16. Paula S.

    A good friend read this book and said it was eye-opening. She’s a retired high school teacher and has seen a lot during her teaching years but called this book the “nitty-gritty “ of foster care and drug abuse. She didn’t say she enjoyed reading it, but couldn’t put it down either.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Paula – I agree – I didn’t enjoy it but didn’t quit reading either

  17. MN Jo

    I am reading a book titled Outside The Lines written by Karen Wussow which is a true story by the author of her childhood growing up in an abusive home, and later through the foster care system. She is now a social worker working in a shelter for men, women, and children in Brainerd, MN. I heard her speak, and had to buy the book. It is so hard to imagine people going through such things in life. My heart breaks!
    I will be checking Demon Copperhead out at the library.

  18. Diane, Squeak, and Buddy in Central ohio

    Hi. Mary, Demon Copperhead sounds like an exceptional, but difficult book. You are correct, those of us who are retired teachers have seen a lot. Some foster parents are good, some are in it for the money and are horrible. It is not easy to see what happens to kids by adults. I think I will pass on the book due to having seen some of this.

  19. Barbara

    Thank you Mary for such an honest review. I too was raised in a loving stable family and was never exposed to drugs nor wanted to even try, I loved my life too much. It’s hard to understand how young people fall into such despair… maybe this book gives some insight as to how it can happen to the best of us put in the same situation.

  20. Barbara V.

    Thank you Mary for such an honest review. I too was raised in a loving stable family and was never exposed to drugs nor wanted to even try, I loved my life too much. It’s hard to understand how young people fall into such despair… maybe this book gives some insight as to how it can happen to the best of us put in the same situation.

  21. patti leal

    Sometimes these books (like demon copperfield) are meant to educate us. it would be nice to think that things like this don’t happen. it is way more prevalent than people choose to believe. it is not easy to think of or try to understand. thank the good Lord if you have never been exposed (or someone in your family). life is nothing like it was when i was growing up in the 1950-60’s. this book is on my to be read list. patti in florida

  22. Chris in Alaska

    Yes I’m a retired first grade (mostly) teacher from an inner city public school . I have so many sad stories I could tell about those poor babies in my classes each year . I could never read that book. I’d be crying through every page .

  23. Norma

    I have not read the book.
    My daughter and husband foster and have adopted. They don’t do it for money but for love! They currently have a sibling group of 3 littles they took as emergency placement just so they could stay together. Her youngest moved out of her very own room in an hour so these children would have a space. They have encountered parents along the way who have been pulled into a drug lifestyle and the babies’ neurological formation has been affected because of Meth.
    So much struggle. Hopefully, achievement and joy in the end.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Norma – hats off to your daughter and her husband!! Such hard but meaningful “work”!

  24. Darlynn Venne

    There is a docuseries on Hulu, Dopesick. It is a must watch! In nursing school we were taught the “Fifth Vital Sign”. Press Ganey scores and hospital reimbursement have been based on how well the staff managed pain. All to discover what this show revealed. I still become heartsick when I remember this program.

    1. Mary Etherington Post author

      Darlynn – I don’t get Hulu but maybe I should – I made note of the title.

  25. Mary in Missouri

    Hi Mary, I am listening to Demon Copperhead using Audible while driving, which means it is an intermittent process. I’m almost finished. Started reading it because it is so highly recommended, but really did not want to continue. Like you, I needed to keep reading to know and understand what these kids and the people in that region have gone through and still do. And to know that drug companies and doctors intentionally prescribed these drugs knowing the effects is absolutely unforgivable.
    My nephew and his wife fostered and then adopted a newborn from an addicted mother. He is now 4 years old, the cutest kid ever, but highly autistic. Is it because of the mother’s drugs? Who knows. They love him unconditionally.
    Do you listen to Podcasts? There is a fairly new podcast called “The Book Case” with Kate and Charlie Gibson. Kate is Charlie’s daughter. They interviewed Barbara Kingsolver, Demon’s author. Very interesting. She is from that area and I believe still lives there. Demon Copperhead is the modern rewrite of David Copperfield. She felt compelled to write this book.
    Maybe listen to their podcast to find books to read.
    P.S. I hated that the language had to be so disgusting to portray their reality.

      1. Mary in Missouri

        Oh, I realize that. It was essential to the story. To me, the more we hear those words, the more it becomes normalized and I don’t want that. Just my opinion.

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