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Copperhead : a novel
2019
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"All Jessup wants is to enjoy his senior year at Cortaca High and get a scholarship to attend college. It doesn't seem impossible. He's a standout varsity football player. A good student. He works at the local movie theater to help his mother make ends meet. But it's hard to live a normal life when everybody in town knows that your stepfather is a white supremacist--a white supremacist who was involved in a violent encounter with two young black college students. And who is about to be released from prison. But his stepfather, David John, also saved Jessup's family from imploding, rescuing his mother and giving Jessup and his siblings a safe home for the first time. David John's release from prison sets off a chain of events that will forever define Jessup's entry into adulthood, dragging him into the swirling currents of irreconcilable ideologies, crushing loyalties, and unshakeable guilt"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

A hardworking high-school senior who longs to attend college struggles against the belief systems of his white-supremacist father, who is about to be released from prison after a violent encounter with two black college students. - (Baker & Taylor)

A hardworking high-school senior who longs to attend college struggles against the belief systems of his white-supremacist stepfather, who is about to be released from prison after a violent encounter with two black college students. - (Baker & Taylor)

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"One of the bravest, most bracing novels I've read in years." --Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk


Jessup's stepfather gave him almost everything good in his life--a sober mother, a sister, a sense of home, and the game of football. But during the years that David John spent in prison for his part in a brutal hate crime, Jessup came to realize that his stepfather is also a source of lethal poison for his family. Now it's Jessup's senior year, and all he wants to do is lay low until he can accept one of the football scholarships that will be his ticket out of town.

So when his stepfather is released from prison, Jessup is faced with an impossible choice: condemn the man who saved his family or accept his part in his family's legacy of bigotry. Before he can choose a side, Jessup will cause a terrible accident and cover it up--a mistake with the power to ruin them all.

Told with relentless honesty and a ferocious gaze directed at contemporary America's darkest corners, Copperhead vibrates with the energy released by football tackles and car crashes and asks uncomfortable questions about the price we pay--and the mistakes we'll repeat--when we live under the weight of a history we've yet to reckon with. Alexi Zentner unspools the story of boys who think they're men and of the entrenched thinking behind a split-second decision, and asks whether hatred, prejudice, and violence can ever be unlearned. - (Penguin Putnam)

Author Biography

Alexi Zentner is the award-winning author of two previous novels, The Lobster Kings and Touch. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Glimmer Train, and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008, among others. He lives with his family in Ithaca, New York. - (Penguin Putnam)

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Booklist Reviews

Zentner's (The Lobster Kings, 2014) latest novel dramatizes the impact of hate and violence on small-town America. Gentle-hearted Jessup is a high-school linebacker who hopes to score a college scholarship and leave Cortaca, his hometown in upstate New York. Known for its respectable university, Cortaca's outskirts are lined with trailer parks, in one of which Jessup's family lives. But his desire to skip town has less to do with his backwoods upbringing and more to do with escaping his family's stigma as white supremacists. His brother is in prison for killing two Black boys, and his stepfather has just been released after arrest for a related but lesser charge on the very day of Cortaca High's first playoff game in years. Jessup pummels the opposing team's star running back and becomes the hero, but his big hit stirs tensions that result in a death, drawing national media attention and turning Jessup's life upside down. With punchy prose that evokes Jessup's fight to sidestep his family's shadow, Zentner expertly and entertainingly distills America's longstanding divisions over race, religion, and class. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

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