The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner's debut book The Serpent King reminds me of a teen-friendly version of Grace Metalious's infamous novel Peyton Place. Both stories feature small-town settings, twisted family lives, and dark secrets, but Zentner's book is approximately 1,000,000 times better-written. (Note: this is not as impressive as it sounds, although I really liked The Serpent King. It's just that Peyton Place is unspeakably bad.)

The Serpent King centers around three high school seniors growing up in rural Tennessee. Quiet, musical Dill is the only son of a disgraced Pentecostal preacher. Travis's obsession with an epic fantasy series is his best distraction from his terrible home life. Lydia is hoping her quirky, “Internet famous” fashion blog will be her ticket to a glamorous future in New York. The three have been devoted friends for years, but as graduation nears they are achingly aware that their lives are heading in very different directions.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say that a lot of terrible stuff happens in this book. The witty dialogue and heartbreakingly sincere friendship between the protagonists offsets some of the never-ending parade of suckiness, but nowhere near all of it. Thankfully, while Zentner's plot might rely on Peyton Place-level dramatics, he handles them with Chris Crutcher-style grace: readers will genuinely care about these likable, fully-realized characters, even when their situations seem too dire to be real.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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