The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Published by Crown Books \ Random House
Publication Date : March 8th, 2016
Available as Hardback & eBook – 384 Pages
Source : Received within the February OwlCrate
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.
This may be a short review but one I felt I really wanted to make. The Serpent King captured for me something I’ve never really gotten in a YA book. The closest I can think of would be Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin. What both got was a sense of a place. Deadly Curiosities captured what Charleston means to me (as a place I frequented as a child and now again as an adult) and The Serpent King captures perfectly to me what it was like growing up in East Tennessee. In the college town I went to school in is mentioned briefly. The book itself is set only a few hours from me, and I could feel that.
I was cautious going into this book, honestly. I had gotten the sampler at YALLFest – one of the few I actually read, and thought it sounded intriguing enough to add to the ‘Library’ list. When this popped out of my OwlCrate I was genuinely excited. So excited I tossed my TBR out the window and started this the next day. I was worried about the mention of religion and of the chance that the location would adversely affect the book. I’ve read plenty of books where the ‘Southerner’ trope is used and abused and let me tell you – I hate it.
These characters however had the quiet dignity and reserve I wanted. The stereotype of the shoe-less hillbilly is tired and done and I wear my shoes at least most of the time I should, thank you very much. Characters like Travis’s mom, with her quiet and meek support and love is something so familiar it makes my heart ache. On that note let me say that I adored our main characters in this and it genuinely broke me. At one point I turned to my husband at work and said ‘These are my babies and something bad is going to happen, I’m not ready for it’. About an hour later it happened and I wasn’t read then either.
The book is a touch predictable in what the ultimate climax is, the triggering event that changes everything, but that doesn’t take away from it’s impact and how it changes the story. If you at all care for contemporary YA or are at all interested in what I feel was a lovely and accurate representation of a lot of East Tennessee check this one out.