After reading an absolutely adoring Zentner's second novel, Goodbye Days, I figured it was time to read his debut novel. I expected to enjoy this book, maybe a bit more than I actually did, but it left me in a blubbering mess, something which gives it an extra star in itself for me.

Hello everyone! 

I am back with another review, today it is The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

The story follows three teens. Dillard is the son of a preacher who is in jail and part of a line of snake handlers and poison drinkers and just wants to move past his reputation. Something that is hard to do in a small town. His friend, Travis, is obsessed with a fantasy book series, much to his abusive alcoholic father's chagrin. Their other friend, Lydia, runs a fashion blog and has dreams of studying journalism in New York City, far away from the judgments of their town. The trio begins senior year feeling bittersweet, and when tragedy strikes, no one is left unscathed.

Having read Zentner's second novel before this one, I had very high expectations. I think they may have been a little too high, considering this book was his debut and he would have improved his writing from this point with the second book.

Let's start with the narration of the story. The book is told in alternating third-person POVS, something I wasn't actually expecting and that surprised me. I figured everything would be from Dill's POV. But I enjoyed each of the character's stories and learning about each of their lives. Zentner did a great job differentiating each of the characters. Often with multiple POVs, I find that they all sound alike. In this one, however, each character had a distinct voice and set of values and beliefs.

Speaking of beliefs, religion was a very big part of this book, specifically Christianity. I've read books dealing with religion in the past, most commonly Christianity but of course a few others. I really liked how Zentner tackled the topic. He doesn't try to push one agenda but gives both sides. I know in the southern United States religion is a major part of life and I applaud Zentner for including that aspect into the book. Whether or not you are religious, you can still read and enjoy this book. Zentner just thoroughly integrates an issue in a YA novel that I have never seen quite like this before.

Alright, now let's talk a bit about that tragedy. Because I was not expecting it at all. I went into this book fairly blind (shocking, I know) and had no idea it was coming. Maybe that made it hit me harder? I'm not sure. But I do know that it took. Me. Down. out of nowhere. I was just going along, thinking that this book was good, but not great and then boom. I am sobbing. Now, if you know me personally or have been following my reviews/blog for a while, you will know that I am not a crier. Books don't make me cry, movies don't make me cry, almost to the point where I am wondering if I should be concerned. This is only the second book in recent memory, I would say about the last 4 years or so, that has made me cry. It was so well written that I was able to connect with the characters on an emotional level that I never usually can. I read the last 100 pages through tears.

This wasn't my favourite book, and it wasn't, in my opinion, better than Zentner's second book, but because it had this effect on me, I cannot give it anything less than four stars. This book will sucker-punch you right when you least expect it. And for that, I must respect it.

Overall, a very interesting and unique read that I will not soon forget.