[626]: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Tundra Books | March 8th, 2016
Hardcover | 384 pp.
Young Adult | Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book caught me unawares. The cover led me to believe that there was going to be a man who somehow has the power to control all types of snakes or someone with an ability to turn into a snake for whatever reason, but I was way off.In truth, this book made me cry; like full on, shoulder-shaking, snot-dripping cry. I was not prepared for it at all.

The Serpent King is a book about growing up in a place that doesn’t really offer much hope for the future. And in this town is a trio of friends who has their own struggles, misgivings and misfortunes. It is a coming of age story that  teaches us the fragility of life; the friendships that give us courage, people’s different ideologies and faith, and the importance of familial love –  blood kinship or otherwise.

Jeff Zentner perfectly captured the ambiance of a Southern town entrenched in fanatic religious beliefs. A town that qualifies the worship of God and snakes, and where drinking venom equates to ordination should you survive. But don’t be alarmed, this book is not heavy on the scriptures if you’re allergic. I think Mr. Zenter was very effective in conveying the religious thematics in moderation. It is every bit your stereotypical Southern community. Some are small-minded and judgemental who held Dill’s father’s sins against him. He was a pastor who got caught with kiddie porn and who tried to get Dill to cover for him by asking him to lie under oath. And when he didn’t, his mother also held him somewhat responsible for his dad’s imprisonment.

Dill feels trapped by his responsibilities and guilt. He thinks the only future he has is working at the grocery store and helping out pay his father’s legal fees forever. But Lydia will do everything in her power to convince him otherwise. Lydia’s upbringing couldn’t be more different than Dill’s or their friend, Travis. She grew up in a progressive household who gave her everything she needed – and not just the material things but love, support and liberties. In the meantime, Travis used to live a loving environment until his older brother got killed while serving the country. After that, he’s taken the brunt of his father’s anger at the world.

The Serpent King is a welcome surprise in a short line of recent contemporary underdogs. It has a lot of heart that will appeal even to those with cynical discernable taste.

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