file_001-2This review may have spoilers.

Three lovable misfits spend their senior year together, trying to survive life in small town Tennessee where misfits are not exactly welcome, no matter how lovable they are.

The Serpent King is actually a very dark story.  The lead character, though the narrator’s focus will shift between all three, is Dillard Wayne Early, Jr., the son of a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher currently in prison for possession of child pornography.  The town wants nothing to do with Dill because of his father; the members of his father’s church want nothing to do with because he refused to take the fall by claiming the pornography found on the preacher’s laptop was really his.

Dill’s fantasy loving friend Travis lives which his abusive alcoholic father and his mother who is still grieving the loss of Travis’s older brother who died in Afghanistan.  Travis dresses like a wizard, carries a staff he carved himself and spends most of his time re-reading his favorite fantasy series.

Lydia, the third member of the group, has a wonderful set of liberal parents who encourage her interest in fashion which she has parlayed into a successful web-blog. Though her success has led to considerable fame, it only serves to further alienate her from her local peers who envy and despise her.

Halfway through the novel things go horribly wrong.

I expect some readers will give up on the book at that point since it does come out of the blue.  Arguably, it’s not needed at all dramatically. There is plenty in the plot already to give the story drama without it, plenty to provide a catalyst for the romance to develop between Dill and Lydia. I admit it, I was tempted.  I think The Sun is Also a Star may have spoiled me a bit.

Tragic events, when they happen in real life, happen without warning. I understand that that is the point here.  Lots of people live through events like this before leaving high school; but lots of people don’t.  It’s my feeling that there was plenty in the The Serpent King for the reader to feel bad about already.  Mr. Zentner didn’t need to go there.

But he did, and he handled the events pretty well. Except for a few passages of dialogue that didn’t quite ring true to me, and a slight over reliance of the pixie-girl saving the boy plot line, I enjoyed The Serpent King and I think the young readers the book is written for will, too. Travis, Dill and Lydia are people many of us would have liked to know back in high school.

It was nice getting a chance to spend time with them in fiction.

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One thought on “The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

  1. those boys certainly stand out as being rather different to their peers. I imagine a boy walking around with staff and dressed as a wizard would stand out anywhere though, not just Tennessee

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