The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner
Dillard Early, Jr., Travis Bohannon and Lydia Blankenship are three friends from different walks of life who have one thing in common: none of them seem to fit the mold in rural Tennessee’s Forrestville High. Dill has always been branded as an outsider due to his family heritage as snake handlers and poison drinkers, an essential part of their Pentecostal faith. But after his father is sent to prison for sexual abuse of a young parishioner, Dill and his mother become real pariahs. His only two friends are Travis, a gentle giant who works at his family’s lumberyard and is obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like fantasy series (much to his alcoholic father’s chagrin); and Lydia, who runs a popular fashion blog that’s part Tavi Gevinson and part Angela Chase, and is actively plotting her escape from Redneckville, Tennessee.
As the three friends begin their senior year, it becomes clear that they won’t all be getting to start a promising new life after graduation. How they deal with their diverging paths could cause the end of their friendship. Until a shattering act of random violence forces Dill to wrestle with his dark legacy and find a way into the light of a future worth living.
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
Thank you to my gal Sylvia at Tundra for an ARC of this book!
I read Jeff Zentner’s debut in November and foolishly didn’t write my review right away so my memory of it is a little fuzzy but please: read this book.
Read this book if you want a bad case of the feels. Read this book if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to grow up in the Bible Belt. Read this book if you’re looking for a realistic depiction of friendship, of a crush growing into something more, of a kid who wants to make a name for himself and get out of his father’s shadow.
What I liked:
-the different voices. Told through the POVs of all three main characters – Dill, Lydia, and Travis – each chapter contributes a different flavour to the overall story. They’re all unique and easily identifiable (I don’t know about you, but it drives me bonkers when there are multiple POVs that all sound the same), and I think each reader will find the “strongest” voice based on who they relate to the most.
-the story. Dill’s pastor father was convicted of sexual abuse, and, because of their role in the community, Dill finds it hard to distance himself from his father’s actions. It’s frustrating and sad and, unfortuately, probably true of that kind of town, which makes Dill’s plight all the more sympathetic.
-the writing is lovely and detailed, full of poignant moments of reflection, and even if you’ve never been in a small Southern town, you can picture it.
-despite Dill and Travis’s dysfunctional family situations, Lydia’s parents are shown as being a fun, loving couple, which is hard to find since most YA parents tend to be disinterested or absent or dead. It sets up an intersting dichotomy between Lydia and her friends who aren’t as privileged as her in more ways than one.
-the fantasy series and author who is totally a fictional version of G.R.R.Martin. I’m not a Game of Thrones fan in any way (books or show), but even I can appreciate an allusion like that!
What I didn’t like:
-I can’t think of anything in particular that I didn’t enjoy in The Serpent King. I was warned going in that I would need tissues by the end and I sort of guessed what would happen, but not the circumstances surrounding that event. As sad as it was, I’m almost glad it went in that direction otherwise I would have been disappointed by a predictable ending.
During my Tundra internship, I read the first 20-odd pages of Jeff’s second book, and I went from crying to laughing and back again so fast, I felt confused for the rest of the day. The Serpent King is similar in that you’ll find yourself smiling right before you’re kicked in the heart on the very next page. An impressive debut, I’m looking forward to the rest of Jeff’s work.