Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Instagram book accounts loved this book and so did a lot of people on Goodreads, which is why I picked it up. Honestly, I wasn’t feeling it so I’m in the minority. I don't hate Young Adult books. Harry Potter is YA and it’s the one thing that’s guaranteed to move me to tears just by thinking about it, but even with some tragic moments I thought The Serpent King fell flat.

Some very minor spoilers are below.

Summary:

Lydia, Travis, and Dill live in a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee. They’re all outsiders: Dill is haunted by his father’s twisted choices, Travis essentially lives in a fantasy world, and Lydia is the only one with plans to move on after graduation as her fashion blog is popular enough to be her ticket to bigger and better things. The trio all struggle to find their place in the world, deal with the hardships in their lives, and figure out what to do once they’re out of high school.

Random thoughts:

I think my biggest annoyance with this book was the portrayal of religion in the South. I grew up in a very conservative church (I do not agree with many of my childhood teachings just FYI, I've now balanced being socially liberal with a belief in God) so I understood Dill's struggle to develop his own opinions. Yet I have never in my entire real life experience seen anything as weird as his church. His father was a pastor who handled snakes to prove his faith. And his congregation frequently drank poison. It was just absurd and played to the negative stereotype of ignorant Southerners. Ick.

I liked Lydia at times because of her sarcasm. She was quirky but sometimes she tried too hard. I had a soft spot for Travis, what with his nerdiness and love for fantasy books. The main scene with him - someone who has read it will know what I’m referring to - did make me sad but it felt like it only happened to progress Lydia and Dill so it was hard to get too emotionally invested. I did think the “note” from the author character for Travis was really sweet, though.

The changing points of view in the novel were useless. In my opinion, POV changes should only happen (or be labeled) when you can learn something that the reader wouldn't otherwise know. It was not the case here. The POV switched between each of the three main characters by labeling each chapter with their name instead of a number. But if you took away the character's names, nothing really changed because it was simply one moving the storyline to a different kid’s house. As a reader, I can tell when the setting changes without needing a label for it. One scene in particular, at the end of the book, switched back and forth between Dill and Lydia every few lines. It was frustrating to read because it took me out of what was supposed to be a moving moment.

One thing I really liked was this quote: “People live quiet lives and that's okay.” If I remember correctly, Lydia’s dad said that. In this age of social media it’s so easy to compare your life to everyone else’s Instagram highlight reel. Not everyone can be a world-changing CEO or jet-setting actor. And really...that’s okay.

Rating:

I think my sixteen-year-old, angsty, ready-to-go-away-to-college self would’ve enjoyed this book, so for that reason I’ll be generous and give it a 2 out of 5. A decade later at twenty-six, I find the conclusion cliche and the characters two-dimensional. In the end, The Serpent King is something I wouldn’t think to recommend.