A couple weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about book signings coming up in our area. She wanted to attend Jeff Zentner’s event. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea who he was. Since she HIGHLY recommended his book, I ordered it and agreed to go. The Serpent King arrived, but I was reading Everything, Everything. So I finished that one, and finally Sunday morning I started it, knowing it had to be read by tonight (Monday). And well, I had to pause to eat dinner at the in-laws, but when I got home, I ate through it. Why did I wait so long to read this?? How did I not know it existed until now??? I’m so ashamed… So! Why YOU should read it! (Note, there is a major spoiler that I’m going to try to address without giving anything away, I hope.)
The Serpent King is one of the best books I’ve read in years! And why you should read it too!”
I’m so excited to tell you guys about this book!! It’s just so fantastic!
So, quick overview-
Dill, Travis, and Lydia all have grown up in a small town in Tennessee. It’s full of typical small-town people. There are people like Travis’ dad who is abusive. Travis is obsessed with a fantasy novel series. He’s a big guy, but not into football like his dad wants him to be. There’s Dill’s dad who’s a crazy pastor, and his mom who’s a religious nut. His dad was arrested for having child porn on his computer, so that’s just…. yeah… Also, his grandfather went kind of crazy from grief. So, Dill feels like his inevitable bout of craziness is coming. But for how messed up he is, Dill is a good guy and an amazing musician.
Lydia got lucky with a dentist dad and a mom who’s super sweet. Lydia is a style blogger (how cute is that???) so her unique fashion, her dislike of stupidity, and her big mouth lead to her being not too popular either.
I love how unique all the characters are. Pieces of them encompass most parts of the small town, southern lifestyle. High school is hard for the three kids because none of them really fit in. Which seems stereotypical, but the high school scenes didn’t feel fake, like they do in many YA books. And this is random, but they couldn’t always hang out. Like sometimes in YA books the only time the friends can’t hang out is because the one friend is sneaking out to meet with some guy. But I digress. This book felt real. Like these kids were really living busy complicated lives.
So what’s different?
It’s definitely a coming of age story, but calling it that seems to leave out so much of the depth. Each of the characters has a major struggle. Dill is dealing with his awful dad who’s in prison, but also his crazy religious mom. Dill’s mom is working to pay off the mountain of debt their family is in and expects Dill to help. Which he does, working a part time job. But she doesn’t want him to succeed. She doesn’t care about him going to school. She just wants him to get a full time job at the grocery store and do that for the rest of his life, because that’s what God wants. Talk about crazy… Religions can make people obsessive, but Dill’s mom takes the cake…
Travis’ problems are pretty bad too. Along with his abusive father, he is dealing with the loss of his brother in the war in Afghanistan. He’s also working part time for his dad at the lumber mill. He meets a girl named Amelia online and they bond over their shared love of fantasy series! Plus, Travis is such a sweetie. He’s a bit shy and awkward, but he has a big heart.
And Lydia. Her troubles sound a bit easier than her two best friends, but she is struggling. She’s always wanted to get out of small town Tennessee. She wants to go to college and make it big in the fashion industry, which is totally possible, thanks to her blog, good grades, and decently well off parents. But as it gets closer to leaving, the more she is torn wanting to stay. She’s worried about her boys and does her best to help them out.
Lydia’s dad is fantastic. He is one of my favorite adult characters in a YA book ever! He is so real and so sweet! I absolutely love him! Random side character who I adore… Moving on…
For a first novel, I was very impressed! Usually you can tell when you’re reading their early work. They haven’t developed their voice yet, their writing can be inconsistent or not flow well. I don’t know if it’s because Jeff Zentner is a song writer, or what, but his writing is fantastic! It was easy to read, yet had beautiful sentences that just drew me in.
So, towards the end there is a major twist. Now, I don’t cry when reading books. Ever. It’s something I’m secretly really embarrassed about. What kind of book nerd doesn’t cry over sad books? But this one… I sobbed. Sitting in my bed just crying and crying. In the words of a friend “BAM! Sadness!” But the thing is, it didn’t feel wrong. Like, I was so horribly sad about it, but I couldn’t fault Zentner for making that decision. It’s a huge factor in all the decisions the other characters make after. It’s the turning point Dill needs to really decide to live his life. If you’ve read it, email me so we can talk about it!! It’s just so good!!
So why should you read it?
- The writing is fantastic.
- The characters are unique and loveable.
- Because you should, just cuz I said so.
Have you read it??? Please comment and tell me what you thought! Have any questions about The Serpent King? Comment or message me!
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