The Serpent King – Jeff Zentner

I hated the first half of this book. I couldn’t relate to the characters or the lifestyle at all. Then, in an instant, everything changed. Tears streamed down my face as the sympathy oozed out of my pores. What poor, beautiful, wonderful children. The end was exactly as it should have been.

Synopsis

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.

Review

I hated the first half of this book. I couldn’t relate to the characters or the lifestyle at all. Then, in an instant, everything changed. Tears streamed down my face as the sympathy oozed out of my pores. What poor, beautiful, wonderful children. The end was exactly as it should have been.

Unfortunately, I still found it hard to understand the simple life. But for a book touted to appreciate the simple life, we don’t see our characters making these kinds of revelations. Instead, the author’s note suggests that this book is meant to encourage those small-town kids with big city ambitions.

Also, can I point out that Dillard’s parents are some of the most despicable people I have ever read about? They want their son to drop out of high school. They blame him for his father’s imprisonment and accuse him of sexual deviancy. They curse him for having college aspirations (and deny evolution). They burden him with their debt. I just don’t understand how extremist people like this can possibly exist. They were almost comical in their Bible-thumping sincerity. Really, does the glorious American South actually have people like the Earlys? We are allowed to learn about the universe, and still maintain faith.

Travis’s father is also a horrendous man, but at least he got his just desserts. You know he feels guilt and remorse. And we thankfully get to see his world crumble around him.

All I can say is: Thank goodness for Lydia’s parents. You saved three children from underachieving and unfulfilled dreams. You gave them hope, love, and support. You pushed them until they finally got where they wanted to be.

I still find it hard to grasp that a substantial portion of Americans live this way, even today. Places where dinosaur computers are coveted. Places where people don’t have access to Youtube because of school internet firewalls (and no internet elsewhere). Places where people don’t even dare DREAM about top Ivy League schools or recording at professional sound studios. Places where people go up in arms about $123.

I am a university student with all the luxuries in the world to set me up for success. I come from the heart of a major metropolitan city. While not the optimal target market for this book, I still gained a sense of appreciation for the people who still live in this sort of forgotten town.

Related Reading

  • Cherry Money Baby – John M. Cusick
  • Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance
  • Truest – Jackie Lea Sommers
  • Dirty Little Secret – Jennifer Echols
  • Things I Can’t Forget – Miranda Kenneally

Rating: 3/5

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