In his bio, Zentner states that he “wanted to write about young people who struggle to lead lives of dignity and find beauty in a forgotten unglamorous place.” And wow, did he succeed. I fell hard and fast for this story and think it should be on everyone’s radar.
The Serpent King unfolds through the POVs of three friends, Lydia, Travis, and Dill, all outcasts in this small town. They are the kinds of people who would do great out of high school and in a bigger city where they could find their tribes. That’s exactly what Lydia is planning. She started a successful fashion blog that is her ticket to NYC and the life she really wants to lead.
Travis is a gentle giant who is wrapped up in a Game of Thrones-type fandom, as an escape from the spectre of his dead brother and the abuse he faces at home. And Dill, who is perhaps the most central character, is drowning under his family’s dubious legacy, unable to to find his way to happiness.
Dignity is an excellent word to sum up The Serpent King. Zentner deftly avoids any kind of hillbilly or even high school clichés and while Lydia may have a bite to her, this isn’t a trio of snarky teens. I’d never read a story set in precisely this world, and I loved everything about it. From their struggles to find their voices, their individuality, and their happiness, to the pressure cooker that a small town can be, where everyone knows your family’s business, going back generations, and how impossible it can feel to escape that.
The Serpent King was a beautiful surprise and I really hope you’ll all pick it up.