The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (384 pages)
The Serpent King is an Unblinking Story of Escaping Another’s Shadow
Dill has a lot on his plate. His father, a Pentecostal minister, believes that venomous snakes hold the key to salvation. He’s also made some horrific decisions, the fallout of which rests on Dill’s shoulders. As his family struggles to make ends meet and to function in the town’s society, Dill has to face a lot of this pressure on his own.
His only balm is his friendship with Travis and Lydia, two outcasts in their own right. Lydia’s edgy fashion and independent thoughts make it tough for her to fit in. But this doesn’t bother her as she continues to plan her escape to New York after graduation. And Travis doesn’t ask for much out of life and finds his joy in an epic fantasy series. He’s also met another fan online that he’s quickly falling for.
A Truly Wrenching Example of True Friendship
Readers follow each character as they grapple with the oppressive nature of living in an incredibly small town. Each character is unique and complex, so we get to see how they try desperately to look out for each other — even though no one else seems to be looking out for them.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
I was genuinely shocked to discover that this is Zentner’s debut novel. Having read some of this other work, I was expecting the same genuine look at teen experiences, but this novel really blew me away.
Dill, Travis, and Lydia all feel incredibly real, have completely realistic reactions to their surroundings, and care for each other in the way we all wish to be cared for. This novel does not shy away from the realities of growing up in the Bible Belt when your dreams do not align with your community’s expectations. I dare you to reach the last page dry-eyed while reading The Serpent King.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table