The Serpent King tells the story of a boy named Dill who lives his life in the shadow of his father’s poor decision, which landed him in jail. Now the man of his household, Dill has to put aside his social life in order to help his mom with the rent and with putting dinner on the table. Dill is only able to stay sane because of his quirky and comical friends, Lydia and Travis, who have family drama of their own. With college around the corner and his last moments of high school coming to an end, Dill must make the tough decision to either put off his dreams to support his mother or to join his friends and pursue his goal of leaving his small town.
With a tragic yet comical plot, Jeff Zentner is able to weave a story that is not only completely relatable, but one that will stay with teens long after the last page of the book is turned. Similar to books such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and All the Bright Places, this novel discusses topics such as friendship, abuse, and untimely choosing to live a life of wonder and adventure.
From start to finish, the author sets up a breathtaking tale that not only has sharp plot twists, but also has three characters that nearly any teen can relate to in some way. The Serpent King is a very impressive debut novel because the characters nearly jump off each and every page and become people for whom you care deeply. This is not easy to do, but Jeff Zentner seems to do this effortlessly, which proves his skill as a writer.
This novel is so powerful — not only because it speaks to many topics that teens face everyday, but because it also handles ideas about questioning your religion and making your own decisions in life. Zentner expresses his views of religion in his book by using hypocritical adults to illustrate how some individuals manipulate religion for their own agenda. With significant undertones about Christianity and paving your own path, the author successfully makes readers question both their own identity and their decisions.
Throughout reading this novel, there was never a dull moment, which impressed me both as a writer and a reader. Most writers utilize some space fillers in their works to add some length to their story, but Zentner keeps his story fast-paced and incredibly interesting. I think the element of the book that kept the plot continually intriguing, was the fact that it has three different narrators throughout. These three diverse perspectives give readers insight into three very different teens with three very different home lives. While some face abuse and neglect, others feel accepted and loved. Having these three voices present creates great variety and was very smart for the author to incorporate in the novel.
Overall, The Serpent King tackles many relevant issues for teens and has a strong voice that it is sure to be impactful. Jeff Zentner is an incredible writer who not only understands the struggle of being a teenager, but also inspires teens to live a better life. This is a novel you do not want to miss.
*Thank you to Crown Publishing and Jeff Zentner for providing me with an Advanced Readers Copy of The Serpent King.