Reading time 4 mins
Review: THE SERPENT KING by Jeff ZentnerThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Published by Tundra Books on March 8th 2016
Pages: 384
Genres: Death & Dying, Friendship, Religion, Romance, Young Adult
eARC provided by Random House Children's

AmazonBook Depository

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.

The Serpent King takes place in a small town in Tennessee. There are three main characters. Dill, is a Pentecostal preacher’s son. Dill’s father is now in jail because of the child-porn found on his home computer. Dill is a suspect to the whole town. Dill’s home life is guilt and sacrifice. Dill is looking forward to graduation so he can take a job full-time to help his family pay off their debts. Lydia is the small town fashionista/misfit/famous blogger. She is pretty well off, and her family is supportive. She can’t conform in this small town and she can’t wait to get to college and have her life finally begin. Travis is the book nerd/big teddy bear. His home life is horrid since he can’t fill his, now deceased, big brother’s shoes. These three amazing characters are in their last year of high school. Their paths are very different, and it may just tear these three best friends apart.

I LOVED so much about this book, I just want to flail. Seriously, this book took me completely by surprise. The characters are everything in this story. They are richly drawn and very relate-able. I could see myself in the guilt ridden son, the girl with big dreams, and the recluse book fantasy nerd. We see first hand that things are hard for each of these people. They are outcasts in their school and in this small town. They suffer ridicule daily, even in their own homes. The great thing about this book is that they have each other.

The Tennessee town that this book takes place in is breath taking and picture perfect. I could easily picture every scene with the descriptive details given by the author. Forrestville, Tennessee has a population of just over 4,000. The town was named after a big KKK leader. Religion is everything for the old folks in this town. For a kid whose father and father’s-father lead a congregation to salvation threw serpent handling and poison consuming, life is directionless when that father makes horrible choices. Forrestville is small town America along the bible belt in the old south. This story managed to talk about religion without being preachy. We get a good glimpse, through Dill, at how hard it can be for a preacher’s son in high school.

For the kids who don’t get out of this small town, life is bleak and offers little options. This story covers tough topics like religious guilt, prejudice, abuse, depression, death and dying, and bullying. I know that sounds really dark, but trust me this book is full of hope. There is hope and light beyond the tragedies of life struggles for these three. The have each other and that is enough.

I did have some issues with this book. First, let me talk about the obvious: this book has some major religious undertones. One of the MCs is a preacher’s son. Granted, he is the only one. I am just not down with that, but since I been there, I understand. Second, there are three POVs. This book is told in third person. Usually, this is a bad thing. Usually, it hard to connect. Not at all in this book. Somehow in this story, I was able to see past both of those huge issues and completely fall in LOVE with this book.

I found myself completely engrossed in the daily life of these three characters in this small town. This is such a great story of coming of age and finding yourself. I laughed, I cried and I rooted out loud for these characters. The characters really touched me, and I won’t soon forget them. I highly recommend this book!

My Rating


About Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults. He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.

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