The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner | Book Review

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is among the best books I’ve read so far in 2016, debut or no. I suppose it is a bit premature to proclaim this already in March. However, there was something about Zentner’s The Serpent King that really spoke to me on a deeper level. This book is beautiful, heart breaking, and ultimately affirms the power of hope and believing in yourself. There’s a gravitas to this book that resonated with me and makes me want to recommend it to all of the people and give it all of the stars ever.

The Serpent King is about three different teenagers – Dill, Lydia, and Travis. The three are sort of these outcast kids at their high school in rural Tennessee. Dill’s dad was one of those snake handler preachers who talks in tongues and drinks poisons. His dad was arrested for possessing child pornography and so, now just Dill and his mom live together. Lydia is probably the most well adjusted and privileged of the trio. She is on the path for college and her parents are relatively well to do for the area. Travis rounds the trio out as the gentle giant obsessed with a series of books that is quite similar to Game Of Thrones. The Serpent King is about essentially how the three approach their upcoming futures upon graduation from high school, and well, this huge turning point and how they react to it (me, I reacted by crying at my desk while I was reading it on my lunch break at work).

So, Dill is a musician. He loves singing and playing music. It’s something that he is truly passionate about. He was even in the praise band at church. However, now that his dad is in jail and his family has this large amount of debt, Dill must work a whole lot of hours at the grocery store to help contribute money. Also, Dill’s family is extremely religious and so, unfortunately, his mom does not value a college education and thinks it will cause him to lose his religion. By the way— there’s this defeatism about Dill that I find all too familiar in rural, poverty filled areas. It reminds me a lot of where I live, to be honest. His character just really rang true for me.

As for Lydia, she is the one female point of view character and she is awesome. She runs this fashion blog called Dollywould,which is amazing and merits a mention in my review. She is very set on going to NYU for college and getting the F out of dodge. However, this puts a bit of a wrench into her friendship with Dill because he can’t stand to lose her. Also, Lydia consistently tries to get Dill to go on to college without really giving his situation any understanding. As a reader — I felt I could relate to Lydia the most, given that I am a woman and I also got out of my small town and went onto success by going to college. Also, the whole blogging thing. Trust, you will love her.

The true sleeper hit character of The Serpent King is Travis. You guys, I was not sure how I would feel about Travis at first because he carries around a staff and is obsessed with that GoT-esque book series. BUT I LOVED HIM OMG I DID I DID. Okay, so Travis has a shitty home life like Dill. His dad is horrifically abusive. Travis is smart, but he enjoys working with his hands and does not quite see college in his future either. But, goodness, I do not want to go into spoilers. I just want to say that I loved his character and I am amazed at how thoroughly I was won over in the end.

I love a good setting and I think that Zentner nails setting in The Serpent King. There’s a real sense of place with the Tennessee setting. Granted, I am not at all a south kind of person (NY through and through). I do, however, have experience with living in a rural area. I loved the impact of the setting on the characters and their outcomes. I loved how the setting impacted their social hierarchy and how the non-main characters treated Dill, Lydia, and Travis. I felt like I could vividly imagine each place and even each train in this book. So, if you like books with that sense of place, you’ll love The Serpent King.

I cannot speak highly enough of The Serpent King. I really got so sucked into the world of these three teenagers and laughed and cried with them. Jeff Zentner’s debut proves that his voice is one to watch out for. If you haven’t yet, add this book to your must read list. You will not regret it for a single moment.

Other reviews of The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner:

YA Bibliophile – “my heart still hasn’t recovered


Read Breathe Relax – “a solid debut novel.

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Look Inside The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner:

THE SERPENT KING (On sale March 8, 2016 / $17.99 / Ages 14 & up) by singer-songwriter Jeff Zentner

In this emotional story, the son of a Pentecostal preacher faces his personal demons as he and his two outcast friends try to make it through their senior year of high school in rural Forrestville, Tennessee, without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Drawing from his own roots growing up in the south, Zentner’s debut is haunting, heartbreaking, and hopeful, and is  in the vein of beloved novels The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, and Eleanor & Park.

The Serpent King Jeff Zentner


One of Paste Magazine’s “10 Most Anticipated YA Books of 2016”

“Zentner’s prose wraps you up like a warm, Southern hug and packs the punches of a sweaty country brawl…The Serpent King is a debut you won’t be able to resist or forget. The Southern Boy in me savored every syllable and the reader in me fell in love with every page.”

—John Corey Whaley,

author of Where Things Come Back, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and William C. Morris Award

“The Serpent King gripped me in its coils and kept me turning pages late into the night.

A triumph of love and dignity.”

—Stephanie Perkins,

New York Times bestselling author

“[T]his sepia-toned portrait of small-town life serves as a moving testament to love, loyalty, faith, and reaching through the darkness to find light and hope. Zentner explores difficult themes head on—including the desire to escape the sins of the father and the fragility of happiness—while tempering them with the saving grace of enduring friendship.”

— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Thorough characterization and artful prose allow readers to intimately experience the highs and lows of these three friends . . . Recommended for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.”

— School Library Journal

“Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel’s strengths. Zentner writes with understanding and grace—a new voice to savor.”

— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“A musician himself, Zentner transitions to prose easily in his debut, pulling in complex issues that range from struggles with faith to abuse to grief. Refreshingly, this novel isn’t driven by romance—though it rears its head—but by the importance of pursuing individual passions and forging one’s own path. A promising new voice in YA.”

— Booklist

“A moving debut novel of friendship and forgiveness that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it, I’m calling it now… The Serpent King is already one of my favorite books of 2016.”

— Eric Smith for BookRiot

The Serpent King Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 22: Jenuine Cupcakes, Kickoff Blog Tour Post

Tuesday, February 23: Book Hounds, Review

Wednesday, February 24: Mundie Moms, Review

Thursday, February 25: Curling Up With a Good Book, Review

Friday, February 26: To Read or Not to Read, Annotate a Scene Guest Post

Monday, February 29: Bookish Lifestyle, Review

Tuesday, March 1: The Book Swarm, Review

Wednesday, March 2: Katie’s Book Blog, Playlist Post

Thursday, March 3: Paperback Princess, Guest Post: Writing a Character with a Parent in Prison

Friday, March 4: Who R U, Behind the Scenes Book Secret Guest Post

Monday, March 7: Icey Books, Review

Tuesday, March 8: Stories & Sweeties, Author Interview

Wednesday, March 9: LovingDemBooks, Review

Thursday, March 10: Swoony Boys Podcast, Review

Friday, March 11: Good Books And Good Wine, Review

Monday, March 14: Winter Haven Books, Review

Tuesday, March 15: Me, My Shelf and I, Review

Wednesday, March 16: Novel Novice, Review

Thursday, March 17: Lili’s Reflections, Review

Friday, March 18: A Reader of Fictions, Author “Don’t Miss” in Nashville Guest Post

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I read 25% of this and quit. Maybe I just didn’t get to the “huge turning point” because I just felt like nothing happened. Lots of background and character development, but I didn’t anticipate anything coming. Maybe that’s what was missing — looking forward to “what’s going to happen?” I just didn’t get that. Glad you liked it, and I know I might be in the minority here. Someday maybe I’ll pick it up again. Great review.
    Annette recently posted..(The New) Feature & Follow Friday – Pet PeevesMy Profile

  2. I’m very much looking forward to giving The Serpent King a shot! It wasn’t a novel that I was initially drawn to, but the more I hear about it, the more I’m convinced I need to read this one. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, and I hope I do too!
    Alexa S. recently posted..Screens & Scenes: Season Binges + Stage ShowsMy Profile

  3. This was a great review and I am really excited to read this book. I am hosting a readathon coming up soon called Bookentine and I plan on picking this up, from the sounds of it I think I will love it so fingers crossed!

    Bookentine Announcement :


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