The Serpent Kingby Jeff Zentner
"Move over, John Green; Zentner is coming for you." —The New York Public Library
“Will fill the infinite space that was left in your chest after you finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” —BookRiot.com
“A brutally honest portrayal of teen life . . . [and] a love letter to the South from a/b>/i>/b>
"Move over, John Green; Zentner is coming for you." —The New York Public Library
“Will fill the infinite space that was left in your chest after you finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” —BookRiot.com
“A brutally honest portrayal of teen life . . . [and] a love letter to the South from a man who really understands it.” —Mashable.com
“I adored all three of these characters and the way they talked to and loved one another.”—New York Times
Named one of the Most Anticipated YA Books of 2016 by Paste Magazine and Popcrush.com
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.
The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.
Debut novelist Jeff Zentner provides an unblinking and at times comic view of the hard realities of growing up in the Bible belt, and an intimate look at the struggles to find one’s true self in the wreckage of the past.
“A story about friendship, family and forgiveness, it’s as funny and witty as it is utterly heartbreaking.” —PasteMagazine.com
Forrestville, Tenn., named after Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, isn’t exactly a welcome place for slightly ouside-the-mainstream folks like friends Dillard, Lydia, and Travis. Dill is a high school senior whose snake-handling preacher father is currently incarcerated; Lydia, a successful fashion blogger, plans on attending NYU after graduation; and Travis, large of body and gentle of soul, loses himself (and the pain of his father’s physical and emotional abuse) in a fantasy series called Bloodfall. While Dill finds comfort and beauty in music, Travis’s innate kindness belies his circumstances, and Lydia’s incandescent, gleefully offbeat personality draws them together. As the novel, Zentner’s debut, builds to a shocking act of violence that shatters the friends’ world, this sepia-toned portrait of small-town life serves as a moving testament to love, loyalty, faith, and reaching through the darkness to find light and hope. Zentner explores difficult themes head on—including the desire to escape the sins of the father and the fragility of happiness—while tempering them with the saving grace of enduring friendship. Ages 14–up. Agent: Charlie Olsen, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)
Gr 9 Up—The son of a snake-handling preacher imprisoned for possessing child pornography, Dill escapes his controlling mother and social ostracism with the help of his two friends, Lydia and Travis. As the trio round out their senior year, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent the different paths their lives are going to take—Travis is content working in a lumberyard and diving into a fantasy world from a book series in his spare time, while Lydia runs a popular fashion blog and is intent on attending New York University. As for Dill, he yearns for more than Forrestville, TN, can offer, but he feels compelled to honor his father's legacy and his mother's domineering wishes. As Dill grapples with a crush on Lydia and a mother who wants him to drop out of high school, a YouTube clip of Dill singing and playing guitar begins to garner attention. Dill must decide among what his heart wants, what his family needs, and his own desire for a life outside of their small town; "If you're going to live," he says, "you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things." Zentner offers a contemporary young adult novel that explores many issues common with teenagers today—bullying, life after high school, and the coming together and breaking apart of high school friendships. Thorough characterization and artful prose allow readers to intimately experience the highs and lows of these three friends. VERDICT Recommended for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.—Amanda C. Buschmann, Atascocita Middle School, Humble, TX
A touching debut chronicles the coming-of-age of three high school seniors, misfits and best friends. Neither Dill, Travis, nor Lydia feels at home in Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan. Lydia's loving, prosperous parents have given her the tools to create a popular blog and the glittering prospect of college life in New York City. Travis, on the other hand, escapes his father's drunken brutality and his own heartbreak over his soldier brother's death by retreating into a fictional fantasy world. And Dillard Early Jr. can't escape his name: his snake-handling preacher father became notorious in these parts when he was incarcerated for child porn. Some—Dill's mother among them—blame Dill for his father's conviction. Lydia is determined to realize her dreams, and she is equally determined that the boys dream, too. Dill just wants Lydia to stay. Writing in third-person chapters that alternate among the three characters, Zentner covers the whole of their senior year, with heartbreak and a hopeful conclusion. Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel's strengths. Zentner writes with understanding and grace—a new voice to savor. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Named one of the Most Anticipated YA Books of 2016 by Paste Magazine and Popcrush.com
“The Serpent King gripped me in its coils and kept me turning pages late into the night. A triumph of love and dignity.” —Stephanie Perkins, New York Times bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss
“The Serpent King is a book you won’t be able to resist or forget. The Southern boy in me savored every syllable and the reader in me fell in love with every page.” —John Corey Whaley, National Book Award finalist and Printz Award–winning author of When Things Come Back
“Zentner’s great achievement — particularly impressive for a first novel — is to make us believe three such different people could be friends. He also manages to blend a dank, oppressive, Flannery O’Connor-esque sense of place with humor and optimism . . . I adored all three of these characters and the way they talked to and loved one another.” —New York Times Book Review
“The novel follows the three friends as they navigate their senior year of high school, through poverty, struggles, conflicts of faith, and trying to figure out a way to survive in this town. Despite dealing with so many difficult, dark obstacles, their powerful bonds of friendship keep alive a hope for the future.” —Bustle.com
“[T]his sepia-toned portrait of small-town life serves as a moving testament to love, loyalty, faith, and reaching through the darkness to find light and hope.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred
“Pens would run dry if readers were to underline extraordinary sentences—the kind that are so true, or funny, or beautiful that they clamp hearts. . . . [An] extraordinary YA debut.” —Shelf Awareness, Starred
“Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel’s strengths. Zentner writes with understanding and grace—a new voice to savor.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred
“The third-person narration manages to convey distinct flavor for each deeply personal and introspective storyline, so each character emerges as an authentic individual, flawed yet lovable, and readers will find themselves drawn by the heartstrings into their complex lives.” —The Bulletin, Starred
“Thorough characterization and artful prose allow readers to intimately experience the highs and lows of these three friends. . . . Recommended for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” —School Library Journal
“A musician himself, Zentner transitions to prose easily in his debut, pulling in complex issues that range from struggles with faith to abuse to grief. . . . A promising new voice in YA.” —Booklist
“[A] richly textured tale . . . The universal highs, lows and power shifts in friendship are played out by three compelling characters until tragedy brings loyalty to the fore.”
Read an Excerpt
There were things Dillard Wayne Early Jr. dreaded more than the start of school at Forrestville High. Not many, but a few. Thinking about the future was one of them. Dill didn’t enjoy doing that. He didn’t much care for talking about religion with his mother. That never left him feeling happy or saved. He loathed the flash of recognition that usually passed across people’s faces when they learned his name. That rarely resulted in a conversation he enjoyed.
And he really didn’t enjoy visiting his father, Pastor Dillard Early Sr., at Riverbend Prison. His trip to Nashville that day wasn’t to visit his father, but he still had a nagging sense of unformed dread and he didn’t know why. It might have been because school was starting the next day, but this felt different somehow than in years past.
It would have been worse except for the excitement of seeing Lydia. The worst days spent with her were better than the best days spent without her.
Dill stopped strumming his guitar, leaned forward, and wrote in the dollar-store composition book open on the floor in front of him. The decrepit window air conditioner wheezed, losing the battle against the mugginess of his living room.
The thudding of a wasp at the window caught his attention over the laboring of the air conditioner. He rose from the ripped sofa and walked to the window, which he jimmied until it screeched open.
Dill swatted the wasp toward the crack. “You don’t want to stay in here,” he murmured. “This house is no place to die. Go on. Get.”
It alighted on the sill, considered the house one more time, and flew free. Dill shut the window, almost having to hang from it to close it all the way.
His mother walked in wearing her motel maid’s uniform. She looked tired. She always did, which made her seem much older than her thirty-five years. “What were you doing with the window open and the AC on? Electricity’s not free.”
Dill turned. “Wasp.”
“Why you all dressed to leave? You going somewhere?”
“Nashville.” Please don’t ask the question I know you’re going to ask.
“Visiting your father?” She sounded both hopeful and accusatory.
“No.” Dill looked away.
His mother stepped toward him and sought his eyes. “Why not?”
Dill avoided her glare. “Because. That’s not why we’re going.”
“Me. Lydia. Travis. Same as always.”
She put a hand on her hip. “Why you going, then?”
“Your clothes are fine.”
“No they’re not. They’re getting too small.” Dill lifted his skinny arms, his T-shirt exposing his lean stomach.
“With what money?” His mother’s browalready more lined than most women’s her agefurrowed.
“Just my tips from helping people to their cars with their groceries.”
“Free trip to Nashville. You should visit your father.”
You better go visit your father or else, you mean. Dill set his jaw and looked at her. “I don’t want to. I hate it there.”
She folded her arms. “It’s not meant to be fun. That’s why it’s prison. Think he enjoys it?”
Probably more than I enjoy it. Dill shrugged and gazed back out the window. “Doubt it.”
“I don’t ask for much, Dillard. It would make me happy. And it would make him happy.”
Dill sighed and said nothing. You ask for plenty without ever actually asking for it.
“You owe him. You’re the only one with enough free time.”
She would hang it over his head. If he didn’t visit, she would make it hurt worse for longer than if he gave in. The dread in Dill’s stomach intensified. “Maybe. If we have time.”
As his mother was about to try to drag a firmer commitment from him, a bestickered Toyota Prius zoomed up his road and screeched to a stop in front of his house with a honk. Thank you, God.
“I gotta go,” Dill said. “Have a good day at work.” He hugged his mother goodbye.
But he was out the door before she had the chance. He felt burdened as he stepped into the bright summer morning, shielding his eyes against the sun. The humidity mounted an assault even at nine-twenty in the morninglike a hot, wet towel wrapped around his face. He glanced at the peeling white Calvary Baptist Church up the street from his house. He squinted to read the sign out of habit. no jesus, no peace. know jesus, know peace.
What if you know Jesus but have no peace? Does that mean the sign is wrong, or does that mean you don’t know Jesus quite as well as you think? Dill hadn’t been raised to consider either a particularly good outcome.
He opened the car door and got in. The frigid air conditioning made his pores shrink.
She grabbed a worn copy of The Secret History off the passenger seat before Dill sat on it, and tossed it in the backseat. “Sorry I’m late.”
“You’re not sorry.”
“Of course I’m not. But I have to pretend. Social contractual obligations and whatnot.”
You could set your clock by Lydia’s being twenty minutes late. And it was no use trying to trick her by telling her to meet you at a time twenty minutes before you really wanted to meet. That only made her forty minutes late. She had a sixth sense.
Lydia leaned over and hugged Dill. “You’re already sweaty and it’s still morning. Boys are so gross.”
The black frames of her glasses creaked against his cheekbone. Her tousled smoky-blue hairthe color of a faded November sky streaked with cloudssmelled like honey, fig, and vetiver. He breathed it in. It made his head swim in a pleasant way. She had dressed for Nashville in a vintage sleeveless red gingham blouse with black high-waisted denim shorts and vintage cowboy boots. He loved the way she dressedevery twist and turn, and there were many.
Dill buckled his seat belt the instant before her acceleration pressed him into his seat. “Sorry. I don’t have access to AC that makes August feel like December.” He sometimes went days without feeling air as cool as in Lydia’s car except for when he opened the refrigerator.
She reached out and turned the air conditioning down a couple of clicks. “I think my car should fight global warming in every possible way.”
Dill angled one of the vents toward his face. “You ever think about how weird it is that Earth is hurtling through the black vacuum of space, where it’s like a thousand below zero, and meanwhile we’re down here sweating?”
“I often think about how weird it is that Earth is hurtling through the black vacuum of space and meanwhile you’re down here being a total weirdo.”
“So, where are we going in Nashville? Opry Mills Mall or something?”
Lydia glared at him and looked back at the road. She extended her hand toward him, still looking forward. “Excuse me, I thought we’d been best friends since ninth grade, but apparently we’ve never even met. Lydia Blankenship. You are?”
Dill took advantage of the opportunity to take her hand. “Dillard Early. Maybe you’ve heard of my father by the same name.”
It had thoroughly scandalized Forrestville, Tennessee, when Pastor Early of the Church of Christ’s Disciples with Signs of Belief went to the state penitentiaryand not for the reasons anyone expected. Everyone assumed he’d get in trouble someday for the twenty-seven or so rattlesnakes and copperheads his congregants passed around each Sunday. No one knew with certainty what law they were breaking, but it seemed unlawful somehow. And the Tennessee Department of Wildlife did take custody of the snakes after his arrest. Or people thought perhaps he’d run afoul of the law by inducing his flock to drink diluted battery acid and strychnine, another favored worship activity. But no, he went to Riverbend Prison for a different sort of poison: possession of more than one hundred images depicting a minor engaged in sexual activity.
Lydia tilted her head and squinted. “Dillard Early, huh? The name rings a bell. Anyway, yes, we’re driving an hour and a half to Nashville to go to Opry Mills Mall and buy you the same sweatshop garbage that Tyson Reed, Logan Walker, Hunter Henry, their intolerable girlfriends, and all of their horrible friends will also be wearing on the first day of senior year.”
“I ask a simple question”
She raised a finger. “A stupid question.”
“A stupid question.”
Dill’s eyes fell on Lydia’s hands at the steering wheel. They were slender, with long, graceful fingers; vermilion-colored nails; and lots of rings. The rest of her wasn’t ungraceful but her fingers were affirmatively and aggressively graceful. He relished watching her drive. And type. And do everything she did with her hands.
“Did you call Travis to tell him you were running late?”
“Did I call you to tell you I was running late?” She took a turn fast, squealing her tires.
“Think it’ll come as a surprise to him that I’m running late?”
The August air was a steamy haze. Dill could already hear the bugs, whatever they were called. The ones that made a pulsing, rattling drone on a sweltering morning, signaling that the day would only grow hotter. Not cicadas, he didn’t think. Rattlebugs. That seemed as good a name as any.
“What am I working with today?” Lydia asked. Dill gave her a blank stare. She held up her hand and rubbed her fingers together. “Come on, buddy, keep up here.”
“Oh. Fifty bucks. Can you work with that?”
She snorted. “Of course I can work with that.”
“Okay, but no dressing me weird.”
Lydia extended her hand to him againmore forcefully, as though karate chopping a board. “No, but seriously. Have we met? What was your name again?”
Dill grasped her hand again. Any excuse. “You’re in a mood today.”
“I’m in the mood to receive a little credit. Not much. Don’t spoil me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“In the last two years of school shopping, have I ever made you look ridiculous?”
“No. I mean, I still caught hell for stuff, but I’m sure that would’ve happened no matter what I wore.”
“It would. Because we go to school with people who wouldn’t recognize great style if it bit them right on their ass. I have a vision for you, planted in rustic Americana. Western shirts with pearl snaps. Denim. Classic, masculine, iconic lines. While everyone else at Forrestville High tries desperately to appear as though they don’t live in Forrestville, we’ll embrace and own your rural Southernness, continuing in the vein of 1970s Townes Van Zandt meets Whiskeytown-era Ryan Adams.”
“You’ve planned this.” Dill savored the idea of Lydia thinking about him. Even if only as a glorified mannequin.
“Would you expect less?”
Dill breathed in the fragrance of her car. Vanilla car freshener mixed with french fries, jasmine-orange-ginger lotion, and heated makeup. They were almost to Travis’s house. He lived close to Dill. They stopped at an intersection, and Lydia took a selfie with her cell phone and handed it to Dill.
“Get me from your angle.”
“You sure? Your fans might start thinking you have friends.”
“Hardy har. Do it and let me worry about that.”
A couple of blocks later, they pulled up to the Bohannon house. It was white and rundown with a weathered tin roof and wood stacked on the front porch. Travis’s father perspired in the gravel driveway, changing out the spark plugs on his pickup that had the name of the family business, Bohannon Lumber, stenciled on the side. He cast Dill and Lydia a briny glare, cupped his hand to his mouth, and yelled, “Travis, you got company,” saving Lydia the trouble of honking.
“Pappy Bohannon looks to be in a bit of a mood himself,” Lydia said.
“To hear Travis tell it, Pappy Bohannon is in a permanent mood. It’s called being a giant asshole, and it’s incurable.”
A moment or two passed before Travis came loping outside. Ambling, perhaps. Whatever bears do. All six feet, six inches, and 250 pounds of him. His shaggy, curly red hair and patchy red teenager beard were wet from the shower. He wore his signature black work boots, black Wranglers, and baggy black dress shirt buttoned all the way up. Around his neck, he wore a necklace with a chintzy pewter dragon gripping a purple crystal balla memento from some Renaissance festival. He always wore it. He carried a dog-eared paperback from the Bloodfall series, something else he was seldom without.
Halfway to the car, he stopped, raised a finger, and spun and ran back to the house, almost tripping over his feet. Lydia hunched over, her hands on the wheel, watching him.
“Oh no. The staff,” she murmured. “He forgot the staff.”
Dill groaned and did a facepalm. “Yep. The staff.”
“The oaken staff,” Lydia said in a grandiose, medieval voice.
“The magic staff of kings and lords and wizards and . . . elves or whatever.”
Travis returned, clutching his staff, symbols and faces carved on it with clumsy hands. His father glanced up with a pained expression, shook his head, and resumed work. Travis opened the car door.
“The staff? Really?” Lydia said.
“I bring it on journeys. ’Sides, what if we need it to protect ourselves? Nashville is dangerous.”
“Yeah,” Lydia said, “but it’s not dangerous because of all the staff-wielding brigands. They have guns now. Gun beats staff in gun-staff-scissors.”
“I highly doubt we’ll get in a staff fight in Nashville,” Dill said.
“I like it. It makes me feel good to have it.”
Lydia rolled her eyes and put the car into gear. “Bless your heart. Okay, boys. Let’s do this. The last time we ever go school shopping together, thank the sweet Lord.”
And with that pronouncement, Dill realized that the dread in his stomach wouldn’t be going away any time soon. Maybe never. The final indignity? He doubted he’d even get a good song out of it.
The Nashville skyline loomed in the distance. Lydia liked Nashville. Vanderbilt was on her college list. Not high on the list, but there. Thinking about colleges put her in a good mood, as did being in a big city. All in all, she felt a lot happier than she had the day before the start of any school year in her life. She could only imagine what she’d be feeling the day before next school yearfreshman year of college.
As they entered the outskirts of Nashville, Dill stared out the window. Lydia had given him her camera and assigned him to be expedition photographer, but he forgot to take pictures. He had his normal faraway affect and distinct air of melancholy. Today seemed different somehow, though. Lydia knew that visits to Nashville were a bittersweet affair for him because of his father, and she’d consciously tried to pick a route that would differ from the one he took to visit the prison. She spent a fair amount of time on Google Maps plotting, but to no avail. There were only so many routes from Forrestville to Nashville.
Meet the Author
Jeff Zentner is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. In addition to writing and recording his own music, Zentner works with young musicians at Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, which inspired him to write a novel for young adults. He lives in Nashville with his wife and son. Committed to making creativity a part of his everyday life, Zentner wrote both his debut novel, The Serpent King, and his follow-up book, Goodbye Days, on his iPhone while taking the bus to and from work. You can follow Zentner on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter at @jeffzentner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A genuine coming-of-age story that enraptured me from the first page. I couldn't put it down. I read the entire book in one evening. It was funny, gut wrenching, and yet hopeful. A great story that will stay with me.
Dill is used to being an outsider. First because of his father's Penecostal ministry where members handled poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Then later because of his father's arrest for possession of child pornography. Consequently Dills tries to keeps his head down and does what is required to get by while attracting as little attention as possible. Travis doesn't worry much about what other people think of him, his dragon necklace, or the staff he carries everywhere. He knows who he is and refuses to let anyone diminish his abiding love of fantasy novels--also he's 6'4" which is a big help even if he hates aggression and violence. Lydia has never avoided notice in her life. Born and raised in small town Tennessee, she dreams of life in the big city. And she knows that her ambition and her fashion and lifestyle blog Dolly Would will help her get there--starting with her application to NYU. While Lydia and Travis have their eyes on the future, Dill knows that this last year of high school is as good as he can hope for. As everything ends and falls apart around him, Dill will have to try to write a new beginning for himself in The Serpent King (2016) by Jeff Zentner. The Serpent King is Zentner's first novel. It alternates first person narration primarily between Dill and Lydia with fewer chapters from Travis. This novel is filled with evocative descriptions and dynamic characters. Lydia especially comes across as larger than life throughout the novel. While all three friends have a strong bond, they also have a lot of secrets. The contrast between their narrations highlight the ways that these friends come together and also the ways that they keep each other at a distance. In addition to dealing with his family's poverty and the repercussions of his father's arrest, Dill also struggles with his faith throughout The Serpent King as he tries to reconcile his religious beliefs with his ambitions (and his mother's refusal to believe that Dill can or should want more from his life). Lydia's life is a huge contrast to both Dill and Travis. Her family has more money, stability, and affection than either of the boys can imagine. While Lydia refuses to rein in her ambitions because of Dill and Travis' limitations (they are both poor, have weaker grades, and fewer prospects after high school), she does unpack her privilege and gain some hard-won empathy as the novel progresses. The Serpent King is an introspective and meditative novel closely focused on Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Thoughtful prose and a tense plot build to a satisfying conclusion as these characters realize the future can be whatever they choose to make it. Although the overall tone of this novel is melancholy, the story remains empowering and ultimately hopeful. Possible Pairings: Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood
Loved The Serpent king. Could not put down. Made me angry, happy, made me laugh out loud, made me cry, loved the characters
From the first word to the last twas a pure joy. Laughter and tears. You will become friends with Dill, Lydia and Travis.
THE BASICS: Lisa : Becca and I were so excited to start this buddy read together. After hearing countless times how absolutely incredible this book was, we were so excited to experience it for ourselves. We were also lucky enough to receive the audiobook copy from the publisher, so it was even more exciting for us since listening to the audio can bring a story to a whole new level. Sadly, we weren't as impressed as we wanted to be. This story was good, interesting at times, but also very depressing and didn't wow us as we had hoped. Becca : The Serpent King has been the recipient of a lot of hype on social media and across the blogosphere, and it is a book that I have been eager to start, especially after hearing so many good things. TSK is a coming of age story of three teens, Travis, Dill and Lydia in a small Tennessee town. Outcasts, each with a different story and vastly different lives, they have formed a friendship that holds them together and keeps the bullies at bay... well mostly. WHAT WE LIKED: Becca : The friendship between these three characters is one that many strive to find in their lives, and even more in high school. They are a group of real and true friends, who have each others backs and stick up for one another. I loved how different they were and the fact that they still worked together as a unit. Their acceptance and empathy for each other was by far my favorite part of this book. Jeff Zentner is a clever writer, he is very witty and even inserts doses of humor within the banter of his characters. I really did enjoy his writing style and character development. Lisa : I have to say my favorite part of this story was the friendships. These teenagers did NOT have it easy. There was a whole lot going on, especially in their home lives. I loved how they stuck together through thick and thin, regardless of what was happening behind the scenes. I also did like how emotional and heartfelt this story was. It definitely wasn't an easy read, but I can really appreciate that in certain books. The things these youngsters had to deal with was unthinkable and definitely caused my anger to rage. Regardless, it was easy to feel for these characters as this conduct they experienced was, sadly, very realistic. (I know I'm keeping this rather vague, but I'm doing that on purpose. I think knowing little to nothing going into this story is the way to go.) WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE: Lisa : As far as what I did like... it was mostly the pacing. This story really dragged here and there. It wasn't just one time... it would drag, then something would happen, then it would drag some more. I just wasn't as into the book as I had hoped, given the emotional nature of the story. I did feel for these characters, but I never felt fully invested in them, if that makes any sense. I liked them, they were unique and I really appreciated Jeff's writing style and how his personality really came through these characters... but it all seemed like it was from afar, as I never really felt like I was in with this group. Becca : This book has a very depressing feel, from the first sentence to the last. Books with a dark and somber story line are hard for me to take in sometimes. I tend to take on the feelings of the books I read and carry them with me as I read them and even after. This book made my soul feel dark and a bit hopeless and it really got to me. There were also some very troubling things going on in this book, both Dill and Travis
This was a very good book that was character driven and I really loved all of the main characters. I very strongly disliked all of the parent characters, except Lydia's because they were really great. But Travis and Dill both have awful dads, and Dill's mom is bad too. Travis' mom tries, but she can't save him from her husband. This story isn't always happy because it is dealing with a lot of tough issues but it has its good moments. The characters and their friendship is truly beautiful. These three kind of misfits in the South are able to bond and find hope in each other. I really loved this book.
The Serpent King is like a really complex Southern recipe. All the individual bits are added one at a time into the heat until, in the end, you have this really delicious whole. The story is slow and sizzling, beginning at the end of the main characters' senior year, when each of them must make choices about what they want to do once high school is over. The novel's biggest strength, however, lies in its sensual descriptions, especially of place. Zentner takes us to the oppressive hotness and humidity of Tennessee, which adds to how suffocated the characters feel living in their small, dead-end town. He uses images like "the humidity mounted an assault even at nine-twenty in the morning--like a hot, wet towel wrapped around his face," but then mixes them with descriptions like "every nerve in his body suddenly felt like a rush of wind in long grass" and (my personal favorite, which I think I read twenty times before moving on) "Lydia's hair cascaded across his chest, forming tributaries and estuaries," allowing Zentner to brilliantly show how much a place is a part of the people who live there. As much as the three main characters -- Lydia, Dill, and Travis -- want to escape their town of Forrestville, they are innately aware that it is a part of who they are and that each of them is a part of the others. It makes the thought of finishing high school and potentially leaving the town and, thus, their friends intensely somber and painful. In the end, each character must decide who they are, what their purpose is, and if they can amount to anything beyond their family's blood and the breezy air, muddy water, and heavy heat of Tennessee flowing through them. I loved this book. Give me more, Jeff. Do it again.
Thank you to Jeff Zentner and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I have so many good things to say about this novel. It was breath taking and heartbreaking. I cried a lot of tears so make sure you have your tissue boxes on hand. This novel is a coming of age story about three friends in high school who are figuring out what they want to do with their lives. The three friends – Lydia, Dill, and Travis – live very different lives but somehow they latched onto one another and became friends. Lydia is a popular fashion blogger who is dreaming of moving on from their small town to do bigger and better things. She can’t wait to move to New York with her new friends she met through her blog and who all have connections in the fashion industry. Travis and Dill are both simply planning on graduating high and continuing to work at their jobs full time; Travis at his dad’s lumberyard and Dill at the local grocery story. However, Lydia wants more for them than what she thinks is a sad, pathetic life. Throughout the novel each teen experiences ups and downs, triumphs and loses. Each one learns something they never knew about themselves. They rely on one another when they have no one else to turn to. Each character in this novel is different and brings something different to the story. Lydia is a fashion blogger and total girly girl who can’t wait to get out of the small town and experience life in the big city. For the most part she has positive things to say to the boys and is constantly trying to help them find their potential. Dill has musical talents and strengths that he has learned through his adversities and the controversy with his father. Readers can tell that he is very mature for his age, even if some of the other characters don’t think so. Travis has imagination, creativity, and innocence that he has learned through his fantasy novels. His friends may not understand him like he wants, but he is okay with that. I don’t want to spoil anything because it will be better for readers to go into this novel not knowing much. I highly recommend this novel to everyone out there. It was a great read and taught me a lot.
The Serpent King is the story of three teens making their way through their last year of high school in the rural south. Each page--each character's arc--beats with a beautiful hope at its center. I lived with Dill, Lydia and Travis in my heart long after I turned the final page. I would recommend this coming-of-age story to anyone who has grown up, or anyone who plans to grow up. The characters in The Serpent King will have you thinking hard about finding home--both the home we accept within ourselves and the home we create in community. It is a debut novel filled with all the beauty and horror of trust & love & mistakes. And every page shines a light on the simple ways in which we are connected and worthy.
Jeff Zentner has created something truly exceptional in THE SERPENT KING. It is a story filled with beauty and pain, darkness and light, love, faith, and ultimately, hope. This book took a hammer to my heart, and then put all the pieces back together again. Though I finished this book days ago, I haven't been able to stop thinking about Dill, Lydia, and Travis since--each of their stories has a special place in my soul, I suspect, forever. Gorgeously written, a pitch perfect portrait of what it feels like to not belong, to feel trapped in circumstances beyond one's control, and then...that boundless freedom that comes with love, bravery, and taking a risk on oneself. This is one of the most moving, haunting, and honest coming of age stories I've ever read. Recommended for...well, everyone! THE SERPENT KING goes directly to my favorites shelf, and I'll be very impatiently waiting to see what Jeff Zentner will do next!
Every once in a rare while a book comes along that you love so much that it feels like the words have wrapped themselves around your heart and squeezed and it's difficult to imagine that anyone else could ever possibly love it with as much ferocity as you do. At the same time it's even harder to imagine that anyone wouldn't. For me, this is such a book. I read The Serpent King in a constant state of near tears because it was so achingly beautiful, so poignant, and alive, and funny, and wise, and heartbreaking to the extent that it almost physically hurt to read it because I loved it so much. I underlined passages. I full on sobbed which almost never happens when I read. I was absolutely riveted and put aside everything else on my to-do list. I fell in love with the main characters who are so unique and fully formed-- created with such obvious heart and empathy that I felt genuine grief at the loss of them when the book was over. A gorgeous, unforgettable story for all ages about deep, saving friendships, the heartache of youth, and living your best life. Truly special and not to be missed. It's going to be a big one.
I seriously loved this novel! I loved the relationship between Travis, Dill and Lydia. Although they didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time, their relationship seemed genuine and they each brought something to the group that the others seemed to be lacking. It’s their last year of high school and they each see next year as a turning point. College is an opportunity but it’s not a feasible option if pressure or obligations are put into the mix. I loved the parent’s in this novel; I felt that they each had their own special characteristics that added energy and situations that influenced others around them. Dill’s parents thought Dill owed them, owed them his life for a debt his father chose to make. Lydia’s parents seemed to the most approachable but then not everyone is perfect. Travis’ dad, I can’t seem to find the right adjectives to accurately describe him. I really wanted to strangle him but why waste my energy. His father was about brawn and force while he guzzled his beer and slurred his words. When the history of The Serpent King is revealed, I thought of that as an added bonus, I loved that feature and I thought of Dill and what he had to have gone through. As a child, I thought of many weird and usual events that I had witnessed but nothing compared it to Dill’s. I loved the emotions in this novel, I was high and I was low, oh so high and oh, so low but the ride was definitely worth it! I noticed that I began to read this novel slowly for I dreaded what might happen or what I feared would transpire. The teens were looking out for one another but the world around them was swarming with activity. The novel is about dreams, the possibility that not everyone sees into the same future but that everyone has the same hopes and that believing in yourself and having someone love you for who are, does matter. This book was just amazing!! "Do you ever wonder how many springtimes you have left? We're seventeen now, so we get sixty-three more springtimes if we're lucky, like that?" (in proof copy) I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House in exchange for an honest review.
Seamlessly switching POVs between three best friends--Dill, Lydia, and Travis--during their senior year of high school, The Serpent King is a thoughtful exploration of friendship and the ties that bind. Thick with Southern flavor, the setting is a character in itself and serves as the perfect backdrop for this heartfelt novel so full of emotion and heartbreak. Reading it is a cathartic experience. Remembering it… wait, let me get my tissues… will bring back all the feels. The Serpent King is a truly special book that will stay with me for a long time.
The characters, especially Dill and Lydia, are people I wanted to hang out with long after I turned the last page. I loved the way this book showed three young people taking on the world in all its vibrantly hopefully and tragically unfair glory.