Last year was taken up with debut YA novels I couldn’t write about so I am excited to get write about Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. I wonder what this year’s Morris Committee thinks of this one.
Publisher’s Summary: Dillard Early Jr., Travis Bohannon, and Lydia Blankenship are three friends who have one thing in common: none of them fit the mold in tiny Forrestville, Tennessee. Dill, a talented musician, grew up in a Pentecostal snakehandling church, playing in the praise band. During his freshman year, his father went to prison for a heinous crime, leaving Dill and his mother impoverished.
Travis is a gentle giant who works at his family’s lumberyard and is obsessed with a Game of Thrones–like fantasy series, much to his abusive, alcoholic father’s displeasure.
Lydia comes from a loving upper-middle-class family and runs a popular fashion blog that’s part Tavi Gevinson, part Angela Chase, and part Dolly Parton. She’s actively plotting her escape from rural Tennessee for bigger and better things, to capitalize on her Internet fame. This will mean leaving behind Dill—whose feelings for her run deep.
But that’s not Dill’s only problem. He has a cursed name. His grandfather, Dillard Early, became consumed with slaughtering snakes in grief and vengeance after one killed his daughter. He wore their skins pinned to his clothes during his descent into darkness. The whispering and staring locals called him “the Serpent King” before he committed suicide by poison. Dill’s father, also named Dillard Early, was the pastor of Dill’s church, whose parishioners handled serpents and drank poison as signs of faith.
Caught between his mother’s pulling him to drop out of school to help pay off the family debts and Lydia’s pushing him to go to college to escape Forrestville’s whispers and stares, Dill is quickly approaching a reckoning. One that will force him to confront the legacy of darkness—serpents and poison and self-destruction—that is his inheritance.
There are some weaknesses, predictability and some unrealistic elements you might expect in a debut novel, but overall, they are flaws I can live with. It is sad and funny and captures the ups and downs of living life in the goldfish bowl of a small town.