Guest Review: The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner

Today I have another guest review. My friend Laura asked me if she could write a review for The Serpent King for my blog. As I tend to have an open door policy for people that want to share book thought it was a given that I would say yes. Especially since she asked and she never asks. So here you have it, Laura’s review of The Serpent King.

Guest Review: The Serpent King – Jeff ZentnerThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
Published: March 8th 2016
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four-stars

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.

There are so many things in this world that can weigh us down.  Pasts, futures, doubts, and demons.  Especially family demons.  How can we move forward if all anyone sees is the past?  A past filled with someone else’s mistakes and crimes.  We all have our own lives and paths to follow, but when it comes to family, that line tends to blur.

“Their serpents are not your serpents.  Their poison is not your poison.  Their darkness is not your darkness.”

Jeff Zentner’s Serpent King introduces us to three friends—Dill, Travis, and Lydia.  Each with their own style, dreams, and problems.  It’s senior year!  The year everything changes.  Dill, the “weird-outcast-rural-snakehandler boy”, can’t help but wallow in jealousy, anger, and loneliness whenever he thinks about college and getting out.  He knows he’s stuck in Forrestville.  Stuck with his family reputation and Serpent King history.  Dill is the son of jailed Preacherman Dillard Early, Sr.  and no one will let him forget it—especially his mama.  Lydia, on the other hand, already has one foot out the door.  Her fashion blog and college path is in high gear and stretched out to the heavens—aka New York!  And Travis (the sweetest soul), another “odd duck” in the halls of Forrestville High, is more obsessed with the book series Bloodfall than getting out of Forrestville.  He lives and breathes anything and everything Bloodfall, a fantasy world that helps him escape his problems at home.  Such different voices and lives, but interwoven and alive with love and care.  What does the future hold for Dill, Lydia, and Travis?  Will they ever get out of Forrestville?

All three characters talk and move with strong, vivid voices and moods.  I can hear Travis, Lydia, and Dill in my head.  See them move on the page.  But—this is the wrinkle in the story for me–I couldn’t see or feel them together in a big picture for most of the book.  All three raged against Forrestville and its people and traditions, but their points of view felt separate and divided to me.  There were times they melded together—especially when Travis and Dill supported each other. But most of the time it felt as if they were battling alone.  Hiding too many secrets and too much pain.  This point could be viewed as a half-hearted complaint though because it really shows how strong each character sounded and felt on the page.  Perhaps the characters didn’t click, click, click into place to form one big picture because they were about to cast off in separate directions. But their secrets needed to be revealed and shared before they could move on.   Dill, Lydia, and Travis needed each other and once they started trusting each other with their feelings, hurts, and dreams—my heart was all in!

There were several scenes that rocked my reading world though.  Dill and his daddy on the same page were “whoa” powerful.  I actually whispered “whoa” out loud after one of their scenes.  The tension between Dill and his father was coiled so tight!  It was palpable.  I mean hold-your-breath tense.  Mr. Zentner pulled me right into the room with powerhouse writing.  Quiet writing full of southern manners and ways.  Writing that slowly draws you in.  I could feel the hollow prison sounds and tense silences.  Moments readers love to come across.  The power lingers with you long after closing the book.

Dill, Travis, and Lydia were struggling to find their way out of the past.  Struggling to stand up and make a mark of their own on the world in music, words, and fashion.  Each one trying to battle through pain, fear, and doubt.  I wish I could break the plot down a bit more for you, but that would be spoiling.  For me, this warm, perfectly paced, southern story was about faith, dreaming, and friendship.  Finding your way with your friends at your side.  Fighting your demons and the ones you inherited.  And having faith!  Faith in yourself and your friends.  As long as you have trusted friends at your side (especially a friend with a big stick or staff at the ready*giggles*), you’re living right.  The world is yours for the taking!

Recommended read.  Go meet Dill, Lydia and Travis.  I’m already looking forward to more from Mr. Zentner.

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