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Book Discussion: The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 22752127


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.

serpent king.PNG

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: We All Looked Up

We All Looked Up.jpg

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach


When President of the United States announces that an asteroid has a 66% chance of hitting Earth in eight weeks, all hell breaks loose.

People all around the world go crazy. Riots and looting start, military states are formed, and chaos ensues everywhere.

For Peter, Misery, Eliza, Anita, and Andy  – high school students in Seattle – life falls apart. Suddenly, everything seems like life and death… because it is.  Unresolved romances, tensions with parents, and an increasing police state in their high school become an every day part of life. Each of them copes with it differently – and struggles to find meaning in lives that  may or may not exist in two months.

We  All Looked Up


heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

This book is filled with some strange teenage non-romance – rumors about “slutty” girls, having sexual intercourse in jail, and some creepy boyfriend behavior. This could have been expected, given that we have a group of teenagers facing the end of the world. While there a few semi-real relationships, none of them were particularly compelling to me.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

This book made some really important statements about how rumors get started, especially about”slutty” girls (of course, the girl is always slutty, even if the boy was in a committed relationship). I liked the progress of the female characters in the book, and what they learn about themselves through the six weeks.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I really liked Anita – the whip-smart black girl who’s always been the perfect student and daughter. I do wish there had been other non-white and non-straight characters, though.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

While the premise was interesting and I really liked a few characters (especially Eliza), I didn’t love this story. It seemed to use the end-of-the-world plot point to explore every ounce of teenage angst possible, and create scenarios that could only occur in that type of world. It felt a little forced to me.

Favorite Character

Eliza – I love how her way of processing events is photograph them.

Favorite Line


“There were a lot of countdowns that had haunted her over the past few weeks, from the totally mundane (how many breaths she had left to breathe) to the whimsically specific (how many more time’s she’d get to watch Pitch Perfect), but this was definitely the most depressing statistic of all: Between now and the end of the world, there would be no one else who would love her, and no one else she would love”.

(I know.. it’s a little angsty. But I like counting the mundane).

Is this worth a book hangover?

We All Looked Up offered an interesting premise, but I don’t think the follow-through is quite hangover worthy. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Tommy Wallach is both a writer and a musician. We wrote a soundtrack to the book (available on his website here).

Read This Next

I don’t have a good end-of-the-world book for you, unfortunately! But if you’re looking for some interesting teenage drama, check out Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, the story of Leila, an Iranian-American high schooler who has her first real (female) crush. You can check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha


Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.


Filed under Adventure, High School, Science Fiction & Fantasy