Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: March 8th, 2016
Length: 384 pages | 9 hours 8 minutes
Source: Received in my March 2016 OwlCrate subscription box
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.
The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.
This book took me a year to read, because I had some preconceived notion that I wouldn’t like it. I don’t know why- probably my prejudice against YA contemporary novels (which I need to get over, because between this and Fangirl, the genre has proved powerful for me). Not for the first time, I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. This book is painfully honest. The friendship dynamic between Dill, Travis, and Lydia might be the single most realistic one I’ve ever read. That alone would get it an A rating in my book, but additionally, it has:
- Complex characters
- A handling of teen personality and modern issues that doesn’t feel like it’s coming from an adult, far removed from that world
- Intelligent language
- Realistic family dynamics and environment, given the location
- Full story arcs for more than the primary male MC
- A range of parental involvement in the lives of the teen MCs
- Believable supporting cast and action
- A well-paced plot that pulls you in and doesn’t gloss over anything
- No easy outs
In short, it’s a character-driven, developed, realistic contemporary fiction. It made me weep (fair warning: if this book doesn’t hit you in the heartstrings at least once, I’ll be very surprised). I highly recommend it, for everyone. Even if you don’t like YA, I think you’ll like this- the voices are authentically teenaged but the writing is so polished and the issues are so pervasive, it feels more like an adult fiction novel.
ALSO the audiobook is fantastic. The voice actors are so talented (and all three do both male and female voices, Southern accents and not, so I imagine it was a tough gig). All three of them are going on my short Favorite Narrator list.