When Donalyn Miller raves about a book, I tend to listen. After all, she has guided me to many incredible books before. So at ISTE last week when she posted about The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, I quickly jumped on my phone and ordered the book so it would be waiting for me as I got home. I had no idea what the book was about.
After finishing The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefwater, I was in a conundrum; how do you top that series with anything? How do you find your next read when the previous four books were so exquisitely written? Well, it turns out you read The Serpent King. Set in a small town in Tennessee, told in the perspective of three friends, the book is unlike anything I have read before. It simply catches your heart and does not let go. There was so much I recognized in the book; the desire to be something more, the loneliness that comes with being different, the way that friendship can mold you into something you never thought you could be. Simply put, the story of Dill, Lydia, and Travis is one that so many of us will recognize, will settle into and will carry forward with us as we think of our own experiences.
But it is not just my own recognition of elements that made me love this story, it is how I will be able to hand it to kids and hope that within its pages they may find something that sustains them. That within its pages they may, indeed, find slivers of themselves but then also see a different path then the one they may feel they have to take. That within its pages they may realize that life has not been determined for them but instead is something they can shape so they can become more, become better. I am so grateful to the author for writing this book. So if you teach middle school an up, please add this book to your library, but before you do; read it yourself. And perhaps, you might find yourself with tears running down your cheeks at a family BBQ, so thankful that this book was written and we now get to pass it on to others.
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.