Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.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.
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.”
I’ve seen some reviewers talking about this book and how it’s about faith. There are certainly strong elements of that in this novel. Dill is, after all, the son of a snake-handling preacher in the South, one who is struggling with his own faith in the wake of his father’s imprisonment. His father’s actions, and the impending departure of his friend Lydia, have made him question everything he’s grown up believing.
When I read it, though, what I got from it is that this is a novel about personal identity, and not just about the search for it, but about being at peace with that identity when you do find it. In addition to questioning his faith, Dill is trying to decipher who he is in relation to his father, and how he fits into the community as a separate person from his father. I think that’s what makes him cling so hard to Lydia. It’s not just romance; she helps him be himself when he’s not even sure who that is. Lydia knows who she is and knows that there are different sides to her self, and her quest is to integrate those parts. Travis is content in his own skin, but feels alone because who he is is very different from most of the people around him.
I’ve also seen others describing this novel as heart-wrenching, and it is certainly that. There are things that happen that made me want to shake my e-reader and shout “NO!!!” at it, as if that would make a difference. I got to truly liking these characters, especially Travis. As the fantasy geek in this novel, I identified with him the most, including him finding a connection online, like I did with my husband.
What really impressed me was how Zentner managed to balance all three points of view fairly equally, and how they all complemented each other so well. I felt like I got to know these kids not only as individuals, but as a unit, as well as how they fit into (or didn’t, as the case may be) this small town where they live. I was really rooting for things to work out for them, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are some significant bumps in the road to that destination. Hence my screaming at my e-reader.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back and re-reading this one before too long. Dill, Lydia and Travis are people I wish were real, because I’m sure we’d all have been friends. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.