Official Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
Genre: Young Adult
Setting: Modern day Forrestville, Tennessee
My copy came from: I borrowed this from my local library.
Review: A powerful, well-written, young adult novel. The Serpent King was the Hype or Like Friday selection for the month of January, and I can honestly say that I would not have picked this book up had it not been the book of the month. The synopsis failed to interest me, and I tend to like more of the fantastical young adult books rather than those based on reality. The Serpent King really surprised me however, as the book was extremely well written, and the characters fully fleshed out and relevant.
I love a witchy, dark, gloomy autumn day, when it rains from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. And you can listen to Leonard Cohen and wrap yourself up in a warm blanket of exquisite melancholy.
The Serpent King has three main characters, Dill, Lydia, and Travis, with our leading character being Dill. Dill is the son of a minister who is now in prison, and Dill is left with his mother trying to support the family. Dill’s father has very extreme religious thoughts (think drinking poison and holding snakes, etc), and Dill is trying to break free from his family’s past, as there is also sadness with his grandfather’s story.
Lydia is a fashion blogger trapped in small town Tennessee, and I liked her character and her relationship with her parents. In an anomaly for the YA genre, Lydia’s parents are involved, caring, and interested in her life. Her parents talk to her, and they talk to each other, and I appreciated the family dynamic portrayed here.
The other main character is Travis, a big guy who always wears a dragon necklace and carries around a staff and his favorite fantasy novel. He is so secure in his originality and his own self; he really reminded me of some people that I know in real life, and my heart broke for Travis. There was an air of sadness around him (around this whole book really), and I really connected to Travis. He was my favorite character of the book.
People live quiet lives and that’s okay. There’s dignity in that, no matter what you may think.
I loved the relationship between the three characters. Their friendship was real, as Lydia is somewhat embarrassed about both Dill and Travis, and therefore doesn’t talk about them online with her blogging buddies, as neither of them fit her fashionable image. The relationships are not portrayed as perfect, but rather realistic, with real emotions and actions.
One issue I had with the book is that I’m not sure if the book was offensive to me as a Christian or not. I’m not really sure what the author was trying to state here about religion and Christianity. Dill’s struggle with his very extreme religion was handled well, but I’m tired of Christians being portrayed as backwards, ridiculous, and hypocritical. (For example how Dill’s parents were portrayed – they both made me so angry because they were awful!). Dill was portrayed realistically I thought, as a kid growing up with parents involved with an extreme viewpoint, and struggling against that extreme. The religion portrayed here, while stated as Christian, is not my Christianity, so I struggle with a book portraying something that isn’t true. I would hate for someone to have this book be the only instance of Christianity that they see; they would run far away from the religion if so, as the religious are portrayed here as being crazy (for lack of a better word) and bad, unkind people. But I’m not exactly sure what the author’s intent was. There are extreme people out there in the world, but I just wish there had been a character in the book that was Godly and true and showed another side of Christianity, to show some variation in religious views. It seemed like the only option in the small town was to be a believer with extreme poison-drinking, snake-holding views, or to have no religion at all.
I’m tired of this town. Do you know what it’s like? To have his name? To wear that millstone around your neck? The stares and whispers? The weight of this blood?
Another problem I had with the book is that once a certain event happens about two thirds through, the book lost its steam, and I lost almost all interest in the book. I think I was just too emotionally drained to want to continue reading, and while the ending was very good, my emotions had already been spent, so I was reading with a detached air towards the end. I think this was self-preservation because that middle section killed me.
And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.
All in all, I’m glad that I read this book. This is why I love book clubs and online book groups. It gets me out of my comfort zone and gets me to read something I wouldn’t normally pick up. While The Serpent King may have been too melancholy for me, it had beautiful characters and an overall truly beautiful theme about life that is very powerful. Definitely a LIKE for me! I rated this 4 stars on Goodreads, and it just missed being a 5-star book due to the issues I had with the way religion was portrayed here.
Bottom Line: The Serpent King shattered my heart into a million little pieces. Definitely read this book with Kleenex nearby!
Have you read The Serpent King? What did you think? Were you left cleaning up the pieces of your heart? Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?