Copper’s mother has checked into an alcohol detox center. Again. And her stepfather is heading out for Portland, Oregon, with no intention of taking Copper with him. and indeed it’s unclear whether he intends to remain with Copper’s mother. Copper still has hopes of staying with her best friend, in Seattle, until her mother’s released from the program, but her stepfather kills that plan immediately; as the book opens, he’s calling her mother’s siblings to try to arrange a place for Copper. Stop one is Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Tom’s house. They have three daughters, thirteen, eleven and eight…and Copper gets stuck with the nasty tattletale bedwetting youngest. Or at least that’s how Copper sees the brat—er, her cousin. She can’t put posters up, because the walls have just been painted. She can’t wash the smelly quilt she gets stuck with because her aunt wants it dry cleaned. She has to start at a new school part way through the school year. And worst of all, she’s stuck in Hicksville1. Nowhere to go after school, except the skating rink. And Dorothy and Tom have so many rules! And they enforce them2! Finally, Copper talks the oldest daughter, Kim, into sneaking off to the roller skating rink; the parents have forbidden it because they think that’s where all the stoners go, but it’s also where the Cool Boy spends his time. The eight-year-old rats them out…
…and Copper’s off to home number two. This one seems at first to be a better home, at least from Copper’s perspective. No other kids, she gets a canopy bed because it’s Aunt Judith’s childhood fantasy3. and the condo has a pool. But Uncle Raymond is running for state senate and one night they have to go off to a fundraising dinner. But the babysitter’s got the flu! Copper says she’s old enough to stay home alone, and ordinarily she would be. But someone breaks into the condo. Copper, terrified, hides under her bed and calls the police from the extension in her room.
Brave of her, no? Certainly faster than I’d have thought, at age twelve, in a similar situation!
But all Uncle Raymond can think of is a) the liability of a child left alone while he’s off politicking4.and b) that this barely pubescent girl is standing in a sleep-t in front of a couple of strange men5. …and we’re off to home #3. The home of last resort. The home with (gasp) the sister of the biological father, whom we haven’t met, The sister who is a witch. And yes, she really is a witch, in the sense that she’s Wiccan, or pagan, and that in a fairly modern sense, given that the book was written almost thirty years ago. Also completely unlike Copper’s previous three families. She cooks for the entire week and freezes the meals for reheating later. She works outside the home. She takes an interest in Copper’s schooling–they go to the school together on Copper’s first day, and the aunt introduces her around, and the aunt agrees to let one teacher bring a field trip to her property to search for mushrooms. And she doesn’t put up with any of Copper’s bullshit. Despite Copper’s self-justifying’ behavior, in the end Maggie offers Copper a home for as long as she needs it, even after her own mother is released from the treatment program. Open with Copper at every turn, in the end Copper feels bad enough about lying to Maggie that she does seriously consider…well, growing up. And also considering the very real possibility that her own mother might not be able to provide her with a home. At least I get the feeling that Copper’s beginning to recognize that these aggravating rule-bearers are people in their own right. Not just her caretakers I’ll admit here that Copper at first comes across as being…what? Spoiled? Entitled? Self-centered? Twelve? Having grown up in a manipulative environment, raised by an alcoholic mother with no money-management skills and a stepfather who doesn’t regard her as his own child, in the sense of someone for whom you’re responsible?
Reading this as an adult, I can see that a lot of Copper’s problems do come back to that last issue. But this is an afterschool special type of book. A good one, perhaps, but I think it’s meant more to be enjoyable, and teach a lesson to kids about what constitutes a family, than provide an in-depth analysis of child rearing to adults. All standard disclaimers apply; I was given this book by someone else who reviewed it on WordPress, though with no obligation to review it at all, much less give it a good review. Just give this beloved book a Forever Home. Review by Nikki B.
- 1having spent some time in Seattle, yeah: Copper’s right on the mark here, at least from a twelve-year-old’s perspective. Marysville is hicksville, if you’ve grown up in Seattle.
- 2As an adult, reading between the lines, I can guess that Copper’s mother was simply drunk enough of the time that she couldn’t be bothered with Copper
- 3see where this is leading?
- 4never mind the liability of discarding said child simply because she might become a liability!
- 5never mind that she’s just had the wits scared out of her and the two strange men are the police officers she’s had the presence of mind to call