I received Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King way back in March in my first OwlCrate, and it piqued my interest not only because it was a contemporary YA, which I’m a big fan of, but because it didn’t sound like a book I would have picked up of my own accord. That’s a great thing about book subscription boxes: You get surprised with something new to read that you might not have had the chance to enjoy otherwise, and I can honestly say that I did enjoy this book, even if there was a point when I had to stop reading and just sob for a while.
From the description, I thought the book was going to focus almost solely on Dill Early, the son of a pastor who was already getting a lot of side eye from many people in town for his, shall we say, enthusiastic inclusion of snakes in spreading God’s word and has now fallen from grace. But in fact we get such a great distribution of story between Dill and his best friends, Travis and Lydia. I felt like I got to know each character well enough to form an opinion of each and get a good idea of who they were, what they were going through, and how they relied on one another to get through it all. Each character is so different from the other, yet they connect with each other through being outcasts and Zentner does a great job of making them diverse but still believable in their friendship, flaws and all.
My personal favorite was Travis, who has an amazing fondness for high fantasy novels and no shame about it. Each character is relatively likable, though, which I enjoyed because sometimes it can be emotionally draining to read a novel about a character you don’t even like but are still kind of supposed to root for. In general, I rooted for all of them, even if they did things that would piss me off–much like a real person.
I do wish Lydia had been forced to deal with more aside from the most devastating part of the book, because while Travis and Dill had their own personal troubles at home, Lydia seemed to coast through life without too many bumps in her road. Which is not to say that she has it easy, but she has a much easier time of life than the boys, and it was almost tiresome reading about how well everything was going for her.
Overall, though, I liked all of these characters. All I wanted was for all of them to be happy and to stay friends forever, despite their looming graduation date. While Dill and Travis plan to stay in town, Lydia looks forward to life in New York with her fashionable, wealthy roommates. Of course, things don’t go as planned, but I can tell you that it truly was a shocking twist that threw a wrench in the plans. I did not see it coming until maybe a page before, and, well, I don’t want to say too much but I cried. #noshame
To be honest, it can feel a little standard for YA–there’s some romance, some teen angst, plus it’s a contemporary–but I still loved it (but I’m particularly fond of contemporary YA, so I may be biased). However, I don’t think that makes it bad, and it does have its standout points: alternating POV narration, which I don’t think we see often in YA and “hard-hitting” topics, which can sometimes be overlooked for the more common romance arc.
I’m so glad I got this in my first OwlCrate; it gives me so much faith in the next time I decide to order one.
Are you interested in The Serpent King at all? Have you already read it? Tell me your thoughts!