TRCA Spotlight: The Serpent by Jeff Zentner
There were things Dillard Wayne Early Jr. dreaded more than the start of school at Forrestville High. Not many, but a few. The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner
Have you ever felt this way? About school? Family? Life? Anyone who has ever felt they did not fit in, perhaps disconnected from family, or really any type of life struggle will easily relate to Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. Dillard Early, better known as Dill, and his best friends Lydia and Travis are quite possibly the most relevant characters you will ever chance to meet in YA fiction. Set in the southern Bible belt of rural Tennessee, these three friends are about to embark on their senior year of high school dealing with a host of life struggles; small town mentalities, mental illness, physical abuse, emotional abuse and even an incarcerated parent. This senior year will be one that is not soon forgotten, and you won’t soon forget these three great friends either! Prepare to become emotionally attached as the characters find hope amongst their struggles and just maybe, you might even find hope amid your own. Zentner’s debut novel The Serpent King is a book you won’t want to put down!
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Forrestville, Tenn., named after Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, isn’t exactly a welcome place for slightly outside-the-mainstream folks like friends Dillard, Lydia, and Travis. Dill is a high school senior whose snake-handling preacher father is currently incarcerated; Lydia, a successful fashion blogger, plans on attending NYU after graduation; and Travis, large of body and gentle of soul, loses himself (and the pain of his father’s physical and emotional abuse) in a fantasy series called Bloodfall. While Dill finds comfort and beauty in music, Travis’s innate kindness belies his circumstances, and Lydia’s incandescent, gleefully offbeat personality draws them together. As the novel, Zentner’s debut, builds to a shocking act of violence that shatters the friends’ world, this sepia-toned portrait of small-town life serves as a moving testament to love, loyalty, faith, and reaching through the darkness to find light and hope. Zentner explores difficult themes head on—including the desire to escape the sins of the father and the fragility of happiness—while tempering them with the saving grace of enduring friendship. Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review
Zentner’s debut novel is a hit!
A touching debut…Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel’s strengths. Zentner writes with grace and understanding–a new voice to savor. –Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Pens would run dry if readers were to underline extraordinary sentences–the kind that are so true, or funny, or beautiful that they clamp hearts…Zentner sings a song of deep pain and harsh reality, but also of fierce love and hope. –Shelf Awareness (starred)
The Serpent King gripped me in its coils and kept me turning pages late into the night. A triumph of love and dignity. –Stephanie Perkins, New York Times bestselling author
Along with excellent reviews, The Serpent King has garnered quite a few notable recognitions:
- An American Library Association William C. Morris Award winner
- An International Literacy Association Young Adult Book Award winner
- A New York Times Notable Children’s Book
- Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal (UK)
- A Southern Book Prize finalist
- A Publishers Weekly Flying Start
- An AML YA Book Award winner
- An International Literary Association Young Adults’ Choices pick
- A Best Book of the Year, Bank Street College of Education & Children’s Book Committee, 2017 Edition
- A Goodreads Choice Award finalist for Debut Author
- A YALSA Top Ten Book for Young Adults
- A YALSA Reluctant Reader Quick Pick
- A Publishers Weekly Best of 2016 Pick
- A Kirkus Best of 2016 Pick
- A Barnes and Noble Best of 2016 Pick
- An Amazon Best of 2016 Pick
- A Shelf Awareness Best of 2016 Pick
- A Novel Novice Best of 2016 Pick
- An Indie Next Top Ten Pick
- An Amazon Best Book of the Month
Jeff Zentner was led to writing through his music. He lives in Nashville Tennessee and before he was a writer he was a musician. As a guitarist and songwriter, Zentner has released five albums. He has also appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch. Volunteering at a Teen Rock camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp steered him to want to write for young adults. The Serpent King is his first novel.
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