The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: Review

The Serpent King

“We need to take care of each other from now on. We need to be each other’s family because ours are so messed up. We need to make better lives for ourselves. We gotta start doing stuff we’re afraid to do.” 

When my traveling book club selected The Serpent King I was immediately turned off. I don’t really get into fantasy novels anymore, and at first glance at the title I was positive that was what I was in for. For some reason I thought that the three silhouettes were on another planet, and certainly not of Earth. Then I started seeing everyone who is anyone on Instagram posting pictures of how they were buying their copies and flagging them so quickly as beloved words to share. I read a synopsis, and was even more cautious than before–I was positive this was going to be one of “those” books that focuses on the suppressed child of a wayward bible beating preacher that was several fries short of the drive thru special. To be equally as honest, when it was finally my turn to read The Serpent King it took me weeks to actually focus and read the story. I had to restart the novel twice–because my friends assured me that I HAD to read the book in one swoop. Well, they were absolutely right. Jeff Zentner’s novel was almost immediately trailing behind my new favorite YA love The First Time She Drowned on my reading list. I was positive that I would not love another novel this year as deeply as I loved Kerry Kletter’s debut novel.  The Serpent King certainly earned itself a space right beside The First Time She Drowned in my reader’s heart.

You will fall in love with every character, every story line, every feeling, and every single thing that comes out of Lydia’s mouth.

First you are going to meet Dillard aka “Dill”. Within the first few pages of the eloquent novel we find out that Dill’s dad was an extremely conservative leader of the local church. The kind of church that has made Dill’s father infamous with snake handling, poison drinking, and most of all–having underage little girls naked on his computer.

Dill introduces you to best friends that you could ever want to meet, Lydia and Travis.

When Dill introduced me to Lydia, I immediately wanted to be her best friend. Zentner can create the most amazing characters–I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be “in” a clique of friendship as much as I wished myself into their world. Lydia, likely, being the main reason I wanted to be in the cool kid’s crowd. She is the type of girl that I so badly wish I would have had the social smarts, self assurance, and fashion prowess to be. The love and adoration that consumes Dill’s entire body when it comes to Lydia will make your heart grow five sizes just like the grinch.

When Dill and Lydia introduced me to Travis, I just wanted to hug him. That was my genuine overall feeling throughout the entire novel. I genuinely believe that we all had a Travis in high school. Who was just a genuinely good person, who was a little uncomfortable with his body, had really shit parents, but was still the absolute best person. Throughout the entire novel Travis kind of reminded me of the friend that nobody was really “worried about” but everyone probably should have been very “worried about”.

Three entirely different adolescents driving their lives through equally different problems, but so wonderfully braided into the other’s story. Zentner gives us the online social media celebrity (Lydia), the poster child for Fanboys of good Fantasy series (Travis), and the local whack job/criminal pastor’s offspring. We aren’t talking “first world” teen issues like Suzy Chapstick making a mockery of your blog post, or not being able to have the brand new version of the iPhone. We are talking drunken parents with serious issues after losing their child, religious queries that will wreck you to your core, a parent in prison, isolation, despair, and the realness of first love. Jeff Zentner? Yeah, he gets it.

There were just so many beautiful parts of the story. For the majority of the novel I found myself mostly gravitating towards Lydia, and Travis. Travis really found his escape through what he was reading, and I honestly resonated with that. There were plenty of times when I was going through the ridiculous maze of high school that I found myself really finding true solace in the pages of books like Harry Potter, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Luxe.

If you’re a fan of YA, you MUST pick up a copy and read it. I would love to hear what you think for yourself!


Here are a few quotes I pulled out of my post-its from the book before I sent it to NYC for the next reader!

“Do you think that’s what Jesus really meant? Maybe he was like, ‘and theoretically, you could probably pick up snakes,’ and Mark’s over there writing and he’s like, ‘You should literally pick up snakes. Cool, Jesus, got it!’ And Jesus is going, ‘Well, calm down with the snake business. Don’t be weird; just be a decent person. It’s really more of a metaphor.’ And Mark is writing, ‘Definitely pick up actual literal snakes and drink actual real poison like rotten grape juice or other Bible-y poison.’” 

“Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.”

“I’ve made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery.”

“So when I watch trains, it makes me think about how much movement there is in the world. How every train has dozens of cars and every car has hundreds of parts, and all those parts and cars work day after day. And then there are all these other motions. People are born and die. Seasons change. Rivers flow to the sea. Earth circles the sun and the moon circles Earth. Everything whirring and spinning toward something. And I get to be part of it for a little while, the way I get to watch a train for a minute or two, and then it’s gone.”


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