I’m tired of watching children perish. I’m tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I’m tired of outliving those I shouldn’t be outliving. I’ve made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery. I needed to say that out loud to somebody other than my cats. Please take care of yourselves, my young friends.
What happens: Dill’s dad is a grade-A nut job. He’s a former Pentecostal preacher currently serving jail time for possession of child pornography. Dill’s mom works constantly to make ends meet and is basically absent from his life. It’s Dill’s friends, Lydia and Travis, who help him get through life in a tragically small southern town. But their lives aren’t perfect either. Lydia is destined for the big city fashonista life and Travis is a fantasy nerd who carries a staff everywhere he goes. He also has a bad home life. This book is a little hard to sum up because it’s so character driven. Some things happen but the meat of the book is in the relationships that exist between the characters.
The good: I grew up in East Tennessee not far from where this book takes place. Although the town in the book is fictional, it could just as easily be set in the town where I spent 4th-6th grade (Rockwood, in case you’re wondering) and it reminds me a lot (like, a lot a lot) of a little town called Sparta. Anyway, this book is very easy for me to relate to. That said, I don’t think you had to have grown up in this area of the country to connect with. There’s something here for everyone. Have a parent or a family with a weird legacy that you’re trying to outrun? Check! Do you feel like you’re destined for much more greatness than your small hometown has to offer you? Check! Are you a little weird and find it easier to connect with friends on the internet than people in your day to day life? Check! We’ve got the rich kids with stable families, the poor kids with very unstable home lives, and those who fall somewhere in between with dark secrets that nobody sees. We have people who have done very bad things and people who do very good things. I think there’s something for everyone in this book.
The not so good: This is harder for me to answer. When I finished the book, I immediately went to Goodreads and slammed down a 5 star rating. But the more I thought about it and the further removed from my initial emotional response, the more I realized that the book, as great as it is, has some flaws. It’s okay, pretty much all books do! My main issues with the book stem from its pacing. There are a few points in the novel at which I felt like things were going a little too slow and then parts that I felt were rushed. There were also some plot points that felt like they were only introduced to serve as a bridge to a later plot point and didn’t actually add much to the story. I think this is likely due to the fact that this is Zentner’s first novel.
Rating: 4.75/5 stars.
Citation: Zentner, Jeff. The Serpent King. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016.