Monthly Archives: June 2016

Book Discussion: The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 22752127

Summary

Dill has had a rough life. He’s the son of a Pentecostal, snake-handling preacher and now the target for the bullies at school that hate him for his father’s faith and crimes.

But, his friendships with Travis, a boy obsessed with an epic book series and its world, and Lydia, a fashion blogger using her internet fame to get out of their Tennessee town, are what keep him grounded…at least until high school is over and Lydia leaves and Dill has no other choice but to accept the family legacy.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The relationship that develops is sweet and natural. And, in a way, it felt like the relationship was not just between the girl and the boy, but also the boy finding a safe, loving home in her family. But, this is an end of high school book, so it’s also a little bittersweet – no one is ever sure what will happen once graduation comes and the final pre-college summer is over.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

The main reason I’m giving this a good score, even though the mothers in this book suffer greatly due to their marriages and community expectations about staying with your spouse, is because Lydia is a mouthy, badass, self-confident example of girls that love something and won’t make excuses for it. Plus, her explanations of the hunt for clothes at shops, her interactions with her internet followers, and her joy in finding the perfect outfit were a great example of how girls don’t have to make apologies for loving something and that the things that are coded feminine are just as difficult and worthwhile as masculine activities. Plus, I loved that her feminist proclamations are coming from a girl in Tennessee – whose parents are also from Tennessee – so it shows that feminism is for everyone.

BUT, I will flag that if she were anything less than she is, the score would go down a grade because of the domestic abuse and women that make very difficult choices.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This book is important because it shows things that aren’t always common in YA: poverty, religious community, and the South. I really appreciated the perspective in this book because it’s rare to read a YA book where college isn’t an assumed next step for the characters. Dill and Travis both plan to finish high school, start working, and stay in their hometown. In fact, they don’t really have much of a plan at all, more like they’ll just keep doing what they already do because they’re not sure there’s much else anyway. Even though Lydia pushes them (from a position of privilege) to aim for something different/higher, it’s still their main consideration.

This is not common!

Plus, Dill talks about his activities in the worship band and about going to church and how the folks that left the community had to find a new, similar church and what that means for their Sunday plans. I appreciated that The Serpent King incorporated the day-to-day of living faith into the story – even if it is not necessarily a positive faith.

Additionally, Dill suffers from depression and has a “family curse” that he’s fighting to stay on top of. Plus, Travis has to deal with a dad that’s alcoholic and abusive and probably also depressed because Travis’s older brother died fighting in the Middle East.

There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book and I ended up crying a TON, but it was so, so good.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book, guys, this book is a heart squeezer. If you don’t cry at least once while you’re reading it, I’m not sure you’re human. Because Dill and Lydia and Travis…they are the trio of friends you wish you had in high school because of their loyalty and love for each other.

The writing is amazing, you can feel Tennessee around them, and the hopelessness of Travis and Dill weighs on you. When Travis gets his birthday present, my little booknerd heart bawled because it is just the.best.ever. And then…and then Travis goes home and then something else happens and I was crying again – very different tears.

Be prepared, there’s a lot packed in here.


Favorite Character

Travis – Because he loves books, lives in his fantasy world, and is doing the best he can to be happy and kind in a world that hasn’t given much to work with.

Favorite Line

Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.

Fun Author Fact

Zentner was a musician first who decided he wanted to give writing a book a try. WHAT a book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s full of hope. It’s also very, very heavy, so be prepared for some sadness and shock. I don’t want to spoil it, but there was one thing that happened and I wasn’t ready at all and…this book will hit you like a ton of bricks, but then you’ll want to make everyone else read it too!

Read These Next

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a book that will also tear your heart to pieces and then give you the shreds of hope you need to move on or When We Collided for another story of two people meeting and coming together just when they need it most.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock19370304

Summary

It’s 1970 and Alaska is changing and so are the lives of everyone that lives there. It’s not an easy life, and secrets make it even harder. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank are teenagers, but they much make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives now…and those decisions will change everything.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There are two romances: one shows how privilege protects boys/men from the consequences of their choices and the other is a sweet, sort-of-love-at-first-sight-but-not-really story. That they both happen to Ruth makes the second all that sweeter. Usually I think the insta-love is a little silly, but in this case the serendipity and the vulnerable place where each person is at the moment they meet made it seem reasonable to me (plus, my romantic side wants to believe!).

Rosie Feminist Score: Good Effort

Parts of this book are hard. There’s partner abuse, child abuse, a grandmother that thinks she knows best, religious morality restricting choices, and boys that do whatever they want and receive no punishment. But, there’s also women that are respected, women that protect each other, women that work together to benefit the community, a grandmother that acknowledges her mistakes, and several teenagers that make empowering choices.

I feel like this is our most inconsistent category because in other books I would take points off for violence against women. But, it truly depends on the story and how it’s dealt with. Domestic violence/violence against women and, especially, violence against Native women is a fact and Alaska does have higher rates of this, so to ignore it would be a lie. I feel that the community involvement and the character development with this story line make it a strength, not a weakness of the story.

And, most important for me, the women and girls (generally) stand up for, protect, and encourage each other. And, even if they don’t do so at the beginning, they find a place of respect and love by the end.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This is Alaska in the ’70s, it had only been a state for 11 years and things were still settling down. Through the characters, we see how both Native and colonist/settler communities hoped and worked for a statehood that would benefit, not restrict them.

Through the girls, we see what life looks like for some Alaskan Natives – moved off their land, ridiculed, struggling with few resources, but also maintaining traditions through summer camps and sharing winter stores as a community. One of the comments that most struck me, though, was when the girls mentioned that teachers couldn’t even get their affiliations right – that there are many tribes and groups in the area and that one does not equal the other. There was a sense throughout the book of the tensions between the two communities (Native and settler) and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from that.

I also liked that this book featured characters living in difficult economic situations. So often YA features (upper) middle class (white) characters and life looks very different for someone that worries about where their next meal will come from than about which shoes they’ll buy for the dance. I am not saying the wealthy don’t deserve stories, they have important things to say too, I’m just saying that we also need stories of people without wealth.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really enjoyed this book. Almost to A+ Success levels.

I loved the setting and that we see a full picture of the community. I liked the characters and the variety of stories we got from them. I loved how the stories interwove with each other. I think this is an important, lovely book and I will recommend it. I think it touched on a lot of interesting and important topics that, although it took place in 1970, are still relevant today.

I think I’m held back because everything at the end wrapped up very nicely into a little bow and it just felt a little too perfect.


Favorite Character

I think I liked Alyce most. She had big dreams and she loves ballet, but she also guts fish and loves her family.

Favorite Line

….this whole book is beautiful. I loved the writing.

Fun Author Fact

Hitchcock worked in commercial fishing and radio before her book was published.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I really loved the characters, the story, and how much place plays a role in the narrative. I definitely recommend this!

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for a contemporary, place-based story focused on family or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for an ensemble cast set in a fantasy land.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Heavy Topics, Historical