For some reason I thought The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner was about video-games prior to starting it. I have no idea why I thought that, because it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Instead, it was a beautifully told story of three friends trapped in the prejudices and ignorance of a small-town in Tennessee, the pain of broken families, and the horrors of high school life when you are the outcast.
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House on March 8th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Narrator: Michael Crouch, Ariadne Meyers, Ethan Sawyer
Length: 9 hours and 7 minutes
Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.
bible thumping, small town blues-ing, and friendly commiserating
What I loved:
- The three perfect friends: Lydia, Travis, and Dill have formed a beautiful friendship despite their striking differences. There friendship is the story, and it is amazing.
Lydia Blankenship: She’s a fashion blogger with a big internet presence. She lives with a wonderful family and has dreams too big for her small town. Her narrative is hilarious and her attitude about life is perfection.
Dillard Early Jr: The son of a serpent-handling, tongues-speaking, imprisoned preacher who fights the darkness that his father’s arrest left behind. He’s a timid, young man who struggles to find his own path and strengths in a world outside of his broken, indebted family. He’s the underdog you root for throughout the entire novel.
Travis Bohannon: A young man who would rather live in the fantasy world of his favorite novel than in the darkness of his home where his drunk father is constantly comparing him to his deceased brother and a mother who is too meek stop him. Your heart will break over and over for this sad, but lovable character.
- The darkness. This is a young adult novel, but there is plenty of unhappy and dark things that happen that are definitely “adult” themes. You don’t read this book and feel like you’re reading something light-hearted and easily digested. You’re going to tear up when reading this book. You just are.
- The audiobook combined with the multiple POV. I listened to this book and it was excellent. There are three different narrators for the characters, since each chapter is narrated by a different friend in the trio. I love when audiobooks have different actors, because it makes it feel that much more real. This one did not disappoint.
- The story itself. The plot is simple: dream and strive for a better life. Get out of small-town Tennessee. Achieve. Move outside your comfortable boundaries. Be brave. It’s a story line that resonates greatly with me, and I felt it was well executed in The Serpent King. Maybe it’s a little young-adultish in that it’s overly simplified, but I didn’t mind that at all.
- The ending. I loved how this book ended. This is depression and darkness throughout this story, but you finish with light, and you will love it.
There isn’t much to say about what I didn’t like about this book: I can’t think of anything. I thought it was really a well done book, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to read coming of age stories that involve darker themes, beautiful friendships, and hope.
Have you read The Serpent King? What were your thoughts? What books can you recommend that are similar?