*I received this book from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Tundra Books
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Dillard Early, Jr., Travis Bohannon and Lydia Blankenship are three friends from different walks of life who have one thing in common: none of them seem to fit the mold in rural Tennessee’s Forrestville High. Dill has always been branded as an outsider due to his family heritage as snake handlers and poison drinkers, an essential part of their Pentecostal faith. But after his father is sent to prison for sexual abuse of a young parishioner, Dill and his mother become real pariahs. His only two friends are Travis, a gentle giant who works at his family’s lumberyard and is obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like fantasy series (much to his alcoholic father’s chagrin); and Lydia, who runs a popular fashion blog that’s part Tavi Gevinson and part Angela Chase, and is actively plotting her escape from Redneckville, Tennessee.As the three friends begin their senior year, it becomes clear that they won’t all be getting to start a promising new life after graduation. How they deal with their diverging paths could cause the end of their friendship. Until a shattering act of random violence forces Dill to wrestle with his dark legacy and find a way into the light of a future worth living.
What an emotional ride! This book had me blubbering in bed, frantically turning pages to know what happens next. On a beautiful Saturday morning, I had to reach for this book, desperate to finish because I couldn’t get enough of Zentner’s story. I know a book is good when, (a) I can’t put it down and race through it to finish, and (b) when it touches me in such an emotional way. This story was completely alive and moved me emotionally. It’s just weird enough to make it unique, but not so weird that it’s still completely relatable. It’s another great YA story about kids in their final year of high school, suffering that existential crisis of what to do with life beyond the safety of the high school and the cradle of the known small town vs. the dangerous unknown of the world beyond.
Dill is the son of ex-snake handling preacher and convicted pedophile. Travis, his best friend, is a fantasy-loving aspiring writer who is regularly abused by his alcoholic father. And Lydia is a fashion blog sensation who think quite highly of herself and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. These three friends belong to a group of misfits, exiled from the high school, but desperate to escape from the confines of secondary school life to whatever lays beyond. Each character experiences great transformation throughout the story, but although they triumph, it is still a book full of tragedy. Terrible outcomes leave the characters aching and desperate, unsure of how to move forward, but unable to stop the passage of time. They must face reality, even though sometimes they feel as though perhaps that life isn’t worth living.
This book handles really tough topics: abuse, suicide, death. But it focuses on the support of family and friendship. It handles the experience of coming of age in a town that is intolerant of deviance/difference and leaves little room for personal growth. It’s a great story of growth and self-discovery. It’s a story about pursuing your dreams, even when the world is against you. This is definitely one of the more inspiring YAs that I’ve read in a while!