The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner. It’s a book I would have never bought on my own from Barnes & Noble, or even for a few bucks at Ed McKay’s. It came into my possession as the first book I received as an OwlCrate subscriber, last March. The theme that month was Writer’s Block.
This book takes place in rural Tennessee, and follows three friends entering their senior year of high school, with all that that entails. One of them, Lydia, is headstrong and sure of where she will be after graduation. Her two friends, Dill and Travis, are not so sure. Dill’s father is a zealous preacher with a penchant for snakes and watered down battery acid, and is currently in prison for possession of child pornography. Travis comes from a broken home, where his father constantly laments his lack of football accolades, comparing him to his brother, who was killed in action overseas.Lydia is the only one of the three with a good home life, though Travis and Dill’s mothers both try, in their own ways.
I did not expect to like this book. When I first started reading it, it made me feel a little melancholy, remembering what it was like to feel left behind by my friends and lonely in the world. Also, living in rural North Carolina, a VERY watered down version of Forrestville, I can still see shards of southern life that are familiar to me in this story, good and bad. I really liked Lydia, and the way she thinks is very reminiscent of how I thought at that age. I felt empathy for how trapped Dill felt, stuck between family obligation and what Lydia tries to convince him he can be. I adored Travis, a gentle giant who immersed himself in fictional worlds full of honor and glory, wearing a dragon necklace and carrying a staff around. I saw a little of myself in all three of these characters, lame as that might sound, and I cared what happened to them.
This is a contemporary novel, a lot of small town bite and coming of age elements. If you’re looking for a quick read that’s just about people, about being human, I recommend this book.