The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Where to even begin with this review? Many, many people have touted The Serpent King as the book of the year, and I wouldn’t say they’re wrong. This book has received a ton of praise and it is worth every bit of it. To put it plainly, The Serpent King broke my heart.

It’s a beautifully written, emotional roller coaster that I cannot recommend more. I know I recommend books all the time (more often than not), but hear me out. Jeff Zentner took all of my feelings, crushed them, and yet here I am telling you to READ. THIS. BOOK. Do it. You will not regret it.

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.

Life in small town, rural America is not easy by any means, but Dill Early’s life is not one that I envy in any way. I could not imagine growing up with Dill’s parents or his lifestyle. The amount of extreme religion, bordering on fanaticism, that ruled their lives and skewed their judgment was frightening – made even more so by the fact that this type of radicalism is alive and present in the real world. His parents viewed him as a tool; a sinner; something to be used, tread upon.

Luckily he had Lydia and Travis, his two and only friends, to help keep him going. Without them, he probably wouldn’t have made it through his narrow and confined life. Dill is a great person, who has faith in God but believes that his father’s and grandfather’s demons are in his blood and he can’t outrun them. When tragedy strikes their group, he has trouble fighting the darkness that threatens to take him under. The weight of obligation he feels to his parents and this life is dragging him under, and it’s only with his friends that he can see the light.

I loved their little trio. Such a vast and dynamic group that you wouldn’t expect to work so well together, but they just clicked. Lydia is so outgoing with great parents, a wonderful home life, money, and a whole future in front of her. Travis is happy with his small town life and his love of an epic fantasy book series. He doesn’t fit a traditional southern mold, wearing a dragon necklace all the time and carrying around a staff. He doesn’t have a great home life, but he has plans for a better future for himself. Zentner wrote them all in a way that made them real, and raw, and human.

I was angry for Dill, that he didn’t have parents who supported him and who could be so selfish and cruel. It really made me take a step back to think about how lucky I am. While I don’t really see eye to eye with my parents on everything, at least they believe in and support me. I loved Lydia’s parents and I kept thinking, “I hope I’m like them when I have kids. I hope if my kids have friends in that type of situation, I’m that supportive, that understanding.” I wanted to yell at Travis’s dad that he was perfect and to get off his case. I literally had to turn the audiobook off while driving to work one morning because it was making me cry so much that 1. it wasn’t safe, and 2. it was ruining my makeup that I had just applied before I even got to work.

If my ratings scale went above 5 this one would go to 11. I will probably be recommending it to people until forever and will probably buy copies to slip into Little Free Libraries and to lend out.



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