Book Review: The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner


Title: The Serpent King (2016)
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 384 pages
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending one that will rock his life to the core.


I’ve seen this book around ages ago but never really planned to read it until I saw Marie’s review and knew, without a doubt, that I had to pick it up. A quiet, hopeful contemporary with distinct characters is right up my alley, so I got the book as soon as I could and started reading right then and there. Instantly, I was sucked into the story.

The Serpent King is about three best friends: Dill, the son of a very religious minister now in prison; Travis, a quiet boy who just wants to read his books; and Lydia, the most privileged of the three, a big-name fashion blogger and an only child of a relatively wealthy family. The story starts on the day before the first day of their last year in school and takes us through the following months.

“Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.”

The pacing of this book is slow, but that fits its character-driven nature. Dill, Travis and Lydia are all very distinct and well-developed, with their own likes, dislikes, goals, fears, personalities and quirks. The dynamics between the three are incredibly realistic too — this is a friendship of real life, full of love, care and affection, yes, but also has brief moments of anger, bitterness, and resentment.

Set in the deep South, The Serpent King deals with many complex themes, a lot of which are centred around family. Dill has a very religious family, a dark history, and a father who is the leader of a snake-worshipping cult. Travis has a father who stops at nothing to put him down and a mother who enables her husband. Serving as a contrast, Lydia struggles with relating to her friends, having been born to two very loving, supportive parents.

“If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.”

In the end, The Serpent King is about class differences, religion, life as the tragedy that it sometimes is, and it is about friendship, growing up, and living bravely. There’s a persistent sense of sadness that tinges pretty much every scene in this book, I think, and the overall result is a story that is bittersweet — it’s full of heart, and there are moments where you’ll find yourself chuckling along at the characters’ antics, but it also packs an emotional punch.

50 thoughts on “Book Review: The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner

    • I guess it could be read that way! I don’t mind a teen issue book, though, and I think this was what I wanted to read at the time of reading it. And my name’s quite rare in YA fiction that I can’t 100% relate… but I’ve always imagined it’ll feel a little bit off. 😂


  1. I feel like this book is sort of like the underdog & I always root for the underdog lol. The author also happens to be cool with my booski Adam Silvera *covers eyes* smh, I’m def reading this year! Great review Reg <3!


  2. Love the review, Reg! I own this one, but haven’t made it to it yet. Hoping to in the next few months. I’ve heard so many great things about it!


  3. Lovely review, Reg, and I am thrilled to hear you wanted to read this because of my review! I agree with everything you said about this, it was so complex and character-driven, which made it a bit slow to read and get into, at first, but it was worth it, and oh so emotional. Why the 3 stars ? Was it the slow-pacing of the story, or something else? 🙂


  4. I was actually the one who recommended it to Marie until she finally read it, so I feel partially responsible for you reading it now haha
    The Serpent King is a difficult book in my opinion. On the one hand, the title totally had me fooled for a Fantasy novel, but more importantly, I didn’t feel like it was a book I could instantly connect to. I ended up loving it despite everything and I am really glad to see you didn’t hate it either.


    • Thank you for that, Kat! I actually really liked it – I just forgot to change my rating to four stars instead of three (I had copied and pasted the review template from another review), oops. 😂

      But yeah. I’ve actually heard about this book ages ago but didn’t really pick it up because I assumed it was a fantasy novel and I wasn’t suuuper interested in it. I still think the title is a little bit odd, but having read the story, I can see why they chose it.


  5. This sounds like an amazing book Reg, I saw Marie’s review as well and it convinced me to add The Serpent King onto my to-read list. Before that I had no idea what this book was about, or even what genre it was (for some reason every time I saw the cover/title I thought fantasy rather than contemporary). Still I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I haven’t read very many character driven books before, but this still sounds like one I’ll love. I guess at least the author used the slow plot as a space to develop the character because they all sound like very distinct and individual people, which is important in a book that focuses on them the way this one seems to.
    Great review Reg, I need to get around to this book soon now! 😀


    • It was an amazing book, Beth! I actually gave it four stars, just forgot to update my rating.

      I was the same way – I thought it was fantasy rather than contemporary and wasn’t interested in it but then I found out it was indeed contemporary, so I picked it up as soon as I can. I really hope you give it a chance – it’s such a a character-driven story and the slow pacing somehow works in its favour. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh that’s even better then. I was going to say your review for this one sounded a lot more positive than some of your other three star (I think this is what I saw it as) reviews. I think I just assumed there were maybe things you didn’t mention in your review that gave it a lower rating you know?
        I’m going to try and pick it up ASAP in that case! Now I just need to find a copy of it somewhere. 🙂


    • Oops – I actually gave it four stars, I just forgot to up my rating, haha. I don’t know how I would’ve felt if I saw a lot of hype for it, though; I pretty much have only heard of it sporadically over the last few months and didn’t think it was that popular. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember seeing Marie’s review for this too and thinking it was right up my alley. Now all I need to do is get my hands on a copy and make time to actually read it. There are so many books I want to read this year 🙈. Anyway! I love how this book is so focused on friendship and family. I’m all for contemporaries with great friendships. And I love that quote “If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.” It really does seem like a fantastic book. Great review as always, Reg! 😊


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