Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story

Hillybilly Drug Baby: The Story (Hillbilly Drug Baby Book 2) by [Brunais, Andrea]

This week’s other featured books, “Count the Waves,” by Sandra Beasley and “Refuge,” by Nanci LaGarenne, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.


THE BOOK: Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story

PUBLISHED IN: December 2018.

THE AUTHOR: Andrea Brunais.

THE EDITOR: Pearlie Tan, first editor. Olivia Swenson, second editor.

THE PUBLISHER: WriteLife Publishing, an imprint of Boutique of Quality Books’

SUMMARY: A homeless, drug-addicted teenaged poet — Jesse  Ray Lewis, an age-out foster child — wanders into the orbit of the author and her husband in Bluefield, West Virginia, turning their lives upside down as they discover his prodigious writing talent and work to get his life on track.

Andrea Brunais

THE BACK STORY: My book is the second in the Hillbilly Drug Baby series. The first is Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Poems,” by Jesse Ray Lewis. Both books have at their center a young, vulnerable character making deadly choices. Having discovered Jesse Ray’s writing talent, and after editing his book of poems, I was then able to tell an emotionally honest tale of how our lives became intertwined. Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story takes the material to a deeper level, as each chapter closes with a journalistically reported sidebar with facts. figures and context about the issues raised. These include teen homelessness,gang violence, the Appalachian opioid epidemic and child abuse.

WHY THIS TITLE: J.D. Vance brought national attention to Appalachia with his much-reviewed and oft-reviled bestseller Hillbilly Elegy. While “hillbilly” has carried a negative connotation in the past, Vance’s book and the dialogue it inspired have helped add new layers of meaning to the word. Jesse Ray writes heartbreakingly in one of his poems that people may see him as a “Hillbilly drug baby,” but that’s not who he wants to be.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Lisa Brock, the author of Goodbye College, Hello Life! wrote in her review that people should “read it for the beauty of the hope.” That’s a wonderful reason. Another reason is to experience vicariously what my husband and I went through as we somewhat (or maybe entirely) naively opened our lives up to a stranger and assumed, in turn, that he would accept help from us and other strangers. Ours is a personal, dramatic story of how two people intervened in the life of a homeless, drug abusing teen with a background of violence and neglect, hoping to help him turn his life around. The book offers insights into poverty and homelessness plus the intersection of two cultures: Jesse Ray’s and ours.


“Simply said, I could not stop reading Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story. I was put through the wringer with its emotional real-life drama of hope and despair, tenderness and violence. The Quixote-like storyline will have any adult holding their breath as they cheer for the young man from Appalachia and for the all-in effort of those trying to save him from his troubling past. I would challenge anyone not to become fiercely involved from page one.” — Mike Houtz, author of Dark Spiral Down.

“Andrea Brunais has won prestigious journalism and fiction prizes for a good reason: She represents the cream of the reporting/writing crop. Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story emphasizes not only her (and her husband’s) humanity, but also her professionalism. Andrea’s prose is clear, crisp, descriptive and often heartbreaking in the tale of a talented kid whose life was littered with broken promises and dreams before they met. A fine and revealing read.” — Dan Smith, author of CLOG! and Virginia Communications Hall of Fame journalist.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Award–winning journalist and author Andrea Brunais spent 30 years as an editor, reporter, and columnist for Media General, Creative Loafing, and Knight Ridder newspapers. A freelance  writer and author of both fiction and nonfiction, she has won awards including silver medalist recognition in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association nationwide contest, 2015. Her freelance work has appeared in outlets such as the Christian Science Monitor, TravelPulse.com, DuPont Registry, and Appalachian Voice. Her newspaper honors include first place in Commentary from  the Florida Press Club, a Robert Kennedy Journalism Award, and first place in the annual Southern Newspaper Publishers competition. She works in higher education communications and is the creator and executive producer of the web-episode episode series Save Our Towns.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “When Jessie Ray Lews entered our lives, I recognized the makings of a fabulous story. He emerged from family violence and neglect in a region awash with drugs — a region currently the object of a national obsession: Appalachia.He turned out to be a freakishly talented writer capable of poetic rhythms and vivid turns of phrase. My husband and I determined to help him turn his life around, and I believed our mutual struggles would make for a compelling story line. I saw in Jesse Ray more than just a street-smart boy with a flair for poetic expression. I saw a soul who could be saved from a downward spiral. But life never turns out just as we plan, does it?


You can find three snippets of poetry by Hillbilly Drug Baby poet Jesse –

Ray Lewis plus an excerpt from the chapter “Fathers and Father Figures,” in which Hal Gibson, my husband, discovers that Jesse Ray has been keeping the “safe house” in a filthy condition:


LOCAL OUTLETS: Book currently available only online.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.org


PRICE: $17.



(yes, I also do book editing).

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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