Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Serpent King by Jeff Zetner

  • Release Date: March 8, 2016
  • Pages: 384
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Publisher: Crown (Random House)

Apparently my new jam is contemporary told from the POV of a trio of friends because in a lot of ways this book is like Fans of The Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa which I read last year around this time and enjoyed.

Our unlikely friend group in The Serpent King consists of; Travis who lives in a fantasy world to escape his abusive home life; Dill, the son of the Pentecostal signs preacher who handles snakes and is currently in prison for possession of child porn and then there is Lydia. Lydia should be the popular girl, her parents are upper middle class, she runs a successful fashion blog and is internet friends with the daughters of New York elite.  But all of that makes her a misfit in Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

The dynamics of the characters and sense of place are just perfect. There was an interesting tension between Lydia and the boys because she is from a richer, more liberal family while they  are from poorer and more religious conservative upbringings. I happened to hear Gwen Glazer on The Librarian Is In podcast describe this book as evocative and that is just the perfect way to describe it. I actually read the first 50% of this in May and then forgot about it until August, but I was thrown right back into the story and characters, three months later.

The title of the book refers to Dill, but I  didn't see him as the star of the book or anything because each of the characters gets equal chapters. I personally found Lydia to be the most interesting because she is cultivating this online life and persona where she gets invited to NYC fashion week, and because of this  she can't show her everyday life with Dill and Travis her friends because they are "off-brand." Also Dill and Travis have the far end of Jerk Dads and Lydia's Dad was the exact opposite, which is always rare in YA. I really liked the way Zetner wrote her parents.

Like any good contemporary YA there is  an undercurrent of hopefulness for the future  but a couple of moments in this book caught me by surprise. There are some real depressing moments and revelations that kind of snuck up on me. Maybe I’ve been reading too much romance, but I was like geez, YA why so serious ?

Zetner has a great debut and I eagerly anticipate what he writes next. I'm sure he has a lifetime of being uttered in the same breath as John Green ahead of him !

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