The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Meet Dill, grandson of the Serpent King and son of the preacherman caught with child pornography on his computer and sent to prison, in part by Dill himself.

Suffice to say, Dill’s life isn’t the easiest.

serpent kingDill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

Dill, Lydia and Travis face life together, from Travis’ abusive father to Dill’s bitter mother to the homophobic, small-minded bullies at school. Lydia encourages Dill to follow his dreams, and Travis wants nothing more than for real life to be half as exciting as the books he loses himself in. The trio are more than friends; they guide and support one another, helping where they can and giving what they have.

Although Lydia runs a successful blog, she’s nothing like her celebrity persona. Her online mask covers the insecurities, the fears, and allows her to escape herself. Zentner really shows what it’s like to pour yourself into an online persona, to use blogging as a way of showing who you really are, who you’d like to be.

Dill lives in the shadow of his family name, struggling to resign himself to the life his parents chose. He wants more, but, when tragedy strikes, he’s concerned that the fight against the darkness will be too much for him.

Zentner writes exquisitely well for young people, but any adult who had a somewhat difficult upbringing can read and understand this book. It’s inspiring yet heart-breaking, and will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to decide what kind of person they wanted to be.

The Serpent King is a story of family, but not in the traditional sense. It’s also about choice – choosing to follow your own path, choosing to break from your family. Choosing yourself.

(I reviewed this book as part of the Lovereading Review Panel.)

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