The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016. 372 pages. Young Adult
When you live in a small town set in the deep south named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, even being slightly different isn’t going to go down well. Dillard, Lydia, and Travis are best friends entering their senior year of high school. Dill is living under the shadow of his charismatic father, a Pentecostal snake-handler who was recently incarcerated for child porn on his computer. He yearns for more in life but is fearful of losing his friends. He also feels compelled to honor his domineering mother’s wishes, who has suggested he drop out of school to help pay for his father’s legal fees.
Candid and offbeat Lydia comes from a wealthier family and has found success as a fashion blogger which she hopes will catapult her to New York where she can attend NYU. While Lydia is determined to realize her dreams, she is unaware of the cost this is taking on her friendships.
Travis, large of body and gentle of soul, is happy to work at the local lumberyard and lose himself in a Jordan-esque fantasy series called Bloodfall. He has even met a girl online through a Bloodfall fan site but struggles under his father’s emotional and physical abuse. As they each grapple with these concerns, a shocking act of violence sends their lives into a tailspin.
With an openness and grace, Zentner explores difficult issues teens face such as struggling under the failings of our parents, adjusting to life after high school and the fear of the unknown, and how to strive for lasting friendship. Fans of Rainbow Rowell and John Green should definitely consider picking up this touching debut.