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Moving YA Debut | Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King is a YA contemporary novel to make note of…

Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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the serpent king jeff zentner book review

Title & Author: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary

Release Date: March 8, 2016

Series: Standalone

Publisher: Random House

How I Got the Book: ARC via the publisher


“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.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.”

Moving Debut

There is a lot to like and enjoy in The Serpent King.

I was initially wary because this book deals with religion – specifically those crazy Christians who believe that holding venomous snakes and not dying means they’re closer to God.

This type of subject matter can be hit or miss with me, but what I found was an honest look at questioning beliefs and twisted dogma.

What The Serpent King is at its core is a book about growing up. The story focuses on three best friends: Dill, Travis and Lydia.

Each of their home lives couldn’t be more different from each others – Dill’s dad is a former pastor of said snake-wielding church and is in prison. Travis’ dad doesn’t understand his fantasy novel obsession and Lydia is a fashion blogger hellbent on escaping the small town life.

The story alternates between each character’s point of view, and I loved getting an inside look at each of their thoughts and emotions.

The writing in this book is very straightforward. It borders on a bare bones style but ultimately I found the simple words appropriate to express the complex feelings and concepts in the story.

I found the pacing to be fairly slow, but this is a novel about growth, so that has to take place at a believable rate. I didn’t struggle with this aspect of The Serpent King, but I do think it’s important to note going in.

I really enjoyed this story – the growing up, moving on, letting go of it all.

My only real critique is that there were occasional times when an event would be explained but not actually through someone’s “voice.” I wished for more perspective and insight from the characters in these moments instead of the informational style update.


This YA contemporary novel balances sweet simplicity with well-balanced characters – each brought something special to the novel. Despite a little telling vs showing and a slower pace, The Serpent King is a solid debut novel.

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.