|Book Review: The Serpent King (Jeff Zentner)|
|Book title||The Serpent King|
|Category | Genre||Young Adult | Contemporary|
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 read this book in May. MAY! That is how long it take for me to write this review. In retrospect, I’m glad I took my time off from the book before writing this review because when I finished it I was quite taken emotionally and cannot see some things I’ve now noticed.
Zentner has a knack of writing characters. We have three narrators in The Serpent King, Dillard (Dill), Lydia, and Travis. Out of the three, I especially connected with Travis, who loved fantasy books and liked to spend his time talking about fictional characters in online forum. However, I also saw myself in Lydia, she’s confident, selfish at times, but she’s also a dreamer. She believes one can do anything if they would just put an effort to it. Dill is arguably the main character of the three, and I couldn’t quite figure him out. I appreciate his voice and I think he added many values to the story, I just didn’t quite connect with him. Having said that, these three together formed a formidable friendship a person would envy to have during their high school days, and to some readers it might bring the nostalgic feeling of “us against the world.” They each told their story albeit in different portions, Dillard got the biggest, Lydia second, and Travis was the smallest, but each rang true and never once you’ll become confused which one was narrating the story. The secondary characters are also as strong as the primary ones. The parents especially play crucial role in the book, which was refreshing because in many YA books they seemed to be in the background or nonexistent.
Plot and narrative
There are many things happened in the 384 pages I read, but they all focused on one thing, finding yourself. There are a lot of talk about religion in this book, but I never felt it was stiring the focus away from the main story. The themes of abuse and bullying also got major focus in the book and I applaud Zentner’s effort. He didn’t sugarcoat it to make it seems better than it was.
The writing was excellent to the point that makes you reading it even when you know you shouldn’t (heads up: do not read The Serpent King in public places or at work). I sympathized with their stories and felt all those feels, anger, sadness, happiness, but there was this one little thing that nagged at me. The eureka moments – for lack of better words. In the book, we encounter many of these things. The character sat down to think when he/she was facing some huge problem then they suddenly have this solution that will make everything okay. Perhaps, I’m too jaded or whatever, but these moments of sudden bliss and “everything is alright in the world” made the book felt a bit like fairy tale. I’m not saying that dreams don’t come true, but there were times when I think this cannot be real, this is too easy. I don’t know about this, but when was the last time you’re able to fix a 5-years worth of mess just by having an idea. I am not saying they’re living the dreams either. I know these kids, especially Dill and Travis, were having so much trouble back home. You felt for them, but you don’t make it all go away by having one idea.
The Serpent King is a worthy coming-of-age story interwoven with many stuff that teenagers are facing, dealing with child abuse and living with people who have different perspective with you. The bond of friendship between the three main characters is also a major selling point of The Serpent King as does the genuine voice of teenager that emerged from each of the MC.
4 stars (out of 5 stars)