Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
About: 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 is one of those times that I'm so thankful for the book blogging community because this is a book that I would have passed right on by. Like, the cover is gorgeous, but wouldn't grab my eye by itself. Same with the description. I read this solely because of Jamie's post over at The Perpetual Page-Turner so a big thank you to her.
This book talks about life in a way that is so real you come away feeling like you actually know these characters in real life. Dill, Lydia, and Travis are from a small town in the South. And not the idyllic, porch-sitting, sweet tea drinking South. More like the 'how am I ever going to get out of this town' South. It's truly a bummer of a town and these three are your teenage misfits. People at school make fun of them a lot. Lydia's really good with the comebacks, Travis just lets it all roll off his back, but Dill's got it tough - his dad's in jail and his mom's not really supportive of him (and kind of blames him for his dad being gone. SO shitty.) He absorbs all of the shit that gets thrown his way. He's also mega talented with the guitar. He started playing for his dad's church, but now he's started writing secular music and it's really good.
I was immediately enamored with Lydia. She's so cool - running a very successful vintage fashion blog called Dollywould (brilliant), she recognizes that this is not where she needs to be and is trying to go to school in New York. Lydia has a few more advantages in life than Travis and Dill, being as her parents are pretty well off and very supportive of her and her dreams. Dill's definitely in love with her, but she's determined to get out of their small-minded town and never look back. One of the strengths of this book is that it recognizes that getting yourself out also means leaving behind, no matter how much you'd rather not. Sometimes there's no other choice.
I love that Lydia wants more for Dill than he wants for himself. It has to be so frustrating for her. He has let this town and his parents box him in so far that he can't even see a way out. I also love Lydia's assessment of Travis, that he is fine staying in town forever because he adventures in his imagination with his books.
I don't really want to go any deeper into plot stuff because you're going to want to let this story unfold on its own. This book is struggles and loss and feeling trapped by circumstance. It's also hope and perseverance and discovery. It is everything everyone has said it is and more. Please please please if you're on the fence about this one pick it up. If it doesn't sound appealing to you, give it a chance anyway. You won't be sorry.