Friday, March 11, 2016

The Serpent King ~ Jeff Zentner (earc) review [@randomhousekids @jeffzentner]

The Serpent King
Crown Books for Young Readers
March 8, 2016
384 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

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 book. No, really, guys: This. Book.  This is a review where I can only hope i can convey at least a fraction of how brilliant, fantastic, amazing, unforgettable the book is.

I wanted to read The Serpent King from the first time I read its description. It is so, so, so much better than I had even wanted or expected, though.

I love not only the basis for Dill's character - the only child of the now imprisoned, snake-handling, poison drinking Pentecostal preacher and his young wife - but what that means for him personally and socially; as Dillard Early, Jr. his name alone brings judgement. Still, one of the things I truly loved and appreciated about Dill's character was that he wasn't rebelling or disavowing everything his father, his parents stood for.  Maybe he didn't think every aspect of his life (friends, views, books read, music listened to etc) needed to be Evangelical Christian-centric, but he was still religious, still prayed. Next to the way he struggles to do what his mother wants, to support her and keep her happy, it made Dill a really fantastic character for me.

I really enjoyed how the author treated the characters religion  but also their small town life: "People live quiet lives and that's okay. There's dignity in that, no matter what you may think." (pg 118) Not everyone in this book needed to be destined for giant, grand things, necessarily.

It works that each of the three friends doesn't fit in but is still quite different. Lydia wants out of their town as fast as possible, she's going to college and becoming something; Travis escapes his less than perfect reality with the Bloodfall fantasy books, content to work at the lumberyard to afford them; Dill can't go anywhere in town without being associated with his father but does his best to support his mother (including financial contributions).

The characters are so different but the author writes them flawlessly. Somehow it seems one person shouldn't be able to give us a character who gets tights as, "a gift from the Rodarte sisters," (pg 60) and one who wears a dragon necklace and carries a staff and not only make them friends but characters you love. (This author, of course, does.)

It was not only the characters, friendship the three had, their own, individual struggles, difficulties and secrets along with what they provided for the others, but the writing itself that made me love The Serpent King so much. Numerous times I had to remind myself that this was Jeff Zentner's debut novel. Maybe it's because he's a songwriter, as well, maybe he's just that good. Either way, I really can't wait to see what he writes next. (One of my favorite parts is the way Chapter 35 ends but it's too spoilery to quote.)

I cold probably make this even longer with reasons why I loved this book, but I won't. I will say that The Serpent King is well written, smart, understand, and emotional. The characters are superb and not people you see that often in fiction, especially not together. The Serpent King is definitely one of my favorite books.

Some Quotes:

"The rest of her wasn't ungraceful but her fingers were affirmatively ad aggressively graceful." (pg 7)

"'It kind of carries negative cachet,' Dill said.
'What he said. Not much high school cachet to be hd in being a female who has, you know, vocal opinions about anything." (pg 17)

"Her voice was soft, but not like a pillow. Like a pile of fine metal shavings or powdered glass." (pg 326)

"'Maybe we can help him sell firewood,' Lydia said. 'I can show some leg.'
'Yeah, but then people would stop to buy firewood and get a lecture about objectifying women.'
'So?'" (pg 351)

received for review, thanks to publisher, via NetGalley

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