Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Today is release day for Jeff Zentner’s first novel, The Serpent King. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was invited to a lovely dinner hosted by his publisher where I was able to speak with him about his novel and learned some very interesting tidbits. The first of these is that he wrote most of The Serpent King on his long daily commute to and from his full time job. The second is that he likes to work into his novels all of his current interests/obsessions, which you will be able to recognize when you read it. The genius of the book is that they all fit together seamlessly.
Son of a disgraced minister who is currently serving time for possession of child pornography, Dill Early is trapped in a town that knows his father’s failings and treats him accordingly. His mother is more interested in him working to help pay off the debt they accumulated paying his father’s legal costs than she is in him finishing high school. It quickly becomes clear that she blames Dill (at least in part) for their family’s troubles. At the start of his senior year, he has two friends. Lydia, who has professional and loving parents, lives in an extremely stable and supportive environment. A fashionista and owner of a widely known and followed blog, she is planning on heading to New York for college to pursue her passion. Dill’s other friend, Travis, is the son of blue collar family with a loving but timid mother and a verbally and physically abusive father. Travis, however has found his own escape into the fictional fantasy world of his favorite author (clearly broadly based on George R. R. Martin.)
We spend a great deal of time following the various conflicts within these families, between these friends (Lydia REALLY wants Dill to go to college,) and between the friends and the other students at their high school. We see how the support of her highly functional family has produced in Lydia an enviable amount of self confidence and belief in her abilities and plans for the future. We see how a history of abuse has led to Travis’ current family dynamic. And finally, we see how a history of mental illness has led Dill’s family to their present circumstances. Zentner deals with Dill’s depression in an extremely thoughtful and positive way, providing a light and an example for younger readers who might also be struggling with this disease.
Zentner is a clearly gifted writer. I was fully absorbed within the lives of these characters as I was reading. I both sadly and happily recognized all of the varied family dynamics displayed. I found the story of Dill’s family profoundly recognizable, having been involved in a variety of faith communities over my life. I strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this debut novel. I’m looking forward to what is to come from Zentner.
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
SLJ Blog Network