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Review: The Serpent King

The Serpent King - Jeff Zentner

I really don't quite know what to make of this one. A lot of the bloggers and reviewers I follow, apart from a small handful, all seem to rave about how brilliant this book is. Apparently, I am in the black sheep brigade on this one. I just didn't get it. 

 

Which almost made me feel bad because there are some heavy subjects dealt with within the novel, but the whole thing was kind of...just okay to me. I didn't love it, I didn't flat out hate it. It tells the story of three teens, Lydia, Travis and Dill who live in a small town in Louisiana.

 

Lydia is snarky, has a very popular fashion blog and twitter followers in the millions, she's been invited to Fashion Week in New York before and can't wait to graduate and get out of their small town. Travis comes from a lower income family with a horribly abusive father (both physical and verbal) his mom doesn't do much to help, but it's clear she loves him. He loses himself in his favourite series of fantasy novels - rereads, chats on fan forums whilst waiting for the final volume to come out. And Dill, who's living under the stigma of having his snake handling preacher father arrested and sent to prison for child pornography.  Dill testified against him and both his mother and his father, both of whom are deeply religious appear to blame him for this. They are deeply in debt and Dill is working as hard as he can to help clear it down. Naturally, he's very resentful about this but doesn't quite know what else to do. 

 

The story starts off rather dull, and talks about the three friends very different situations and how each one is coping and find solace in each other's company. I didn't like Lydia much, she's from a well off family, has a lot of great parental advice and involvement, and a lot of privileges that other kids in the town don't. Her dad was a great character. Understanding and not afraid to call her out when she was being a brat. Lydia's main focus seems to be getting out of their small town and using the connections she's made from her fashion blog to get into NYU. Yet she doesn't seem to understand why her two friends aren't more pleased for her. College isn't exactly in the future for neither Travis or Dill.

 

Travis and Dill were much easier to be sympathetic with as they both have much harder family situations to deal with. There's also hints of a possible more than friends situation wanting to brew between Lydia and Dill. Dill turns out to have a brilliant singing voice, and is encouraged not to hide it, with some help not only from Lydia but from her dad as well, who is a great role model for both Dill and Travis. Lydia's dad is happy to spend time with the boys and help when he can.

 

Dill suffers from bullies a lot as everyone in town knows who his dad is. His mom constantly reminds him, he testified and it's all his fault and it doesn't help. She's constantly working and thinks Dill should be too. Lydia thinks Dill's talented enough and smart enough to apply to college. Dill doesn't see it. Lydia is pushy on this subject and it's really annoying. I get she wants to help her friend - but it feels like she's pushing her ideas on him and not actually listening to what her friend is actually trying to say. 

 

There's actually a really sweet scene where Lydia uses her connections to bring Travis's favourite author to come to their town and visit him. It really brightens the mood for Travis and gives him hope and a possible future in putting the ideas in his head to maybe start writing himself. But of course, it's all spoiled by his miserable bullying asshole of a father.

(show spoiler)

 

Then about half way through there was a really surprising and sad plot twist. It seemed unnecessarily cruel. The rest of the novel tells how the survivors deal with the fallout from this tragedy. It deals with one of the characters falling into a deep depression and how the other helps them over come it. Though it kind of seems if the tragedy had never happened, certain things would never have changed for other characters. It's taken this big event to make them want something different out of life. I'm still not sure what to make of it, nearly a week after I finished it.  

 

Not for me in the end, I guess. 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Children's for approving my request to view the title.