Monday, May 15, 2017

Southern YA Debut Novel Disappointing Despite Intriguing Set Up

(Image from Barnes & Noble

http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/p/lds-authors.htmlDill Early has never fit in in tiny Forrestville, Tennessee.  And that was before his father went to prison.  The dynamic Dill Early, Sr., is the pastor of the snake-handling Church of Christ's Disciples with Signs of Belief.  Even with the leader incarcerated on charges of possessing child pornography, he has his devout followers.  His son is no longer one of them.  Humiliated by his father's sins, baffled by his mother's blind faith, and bullied by his classmates, Dill wants one thing—to escape Forrestville for good.  He dreams of going to college, a goal neither of his parents support.  In the meantime, he escapes by playing his guitar, writing songs, and leaning on his two best friends and fellow misfits, Lydia and Travis.

Lydia Blankenship is the kind of girl who intimidates all boys.  She's smart, confident, and successful.  Dill longs to tell her that he'd like to be more than friends, but he can't work up the courage.  What's the point, anyway?  The minute she graduates, Lydia will fly off to New York City, leaving him far behind.

As the three friends navigate their way through their senior year of high school, they will face unimaginable heartbreak and strife.  Can the trio survive intact?  Will their individual dreams and ambitions come to fruition?  Or will they remain stuck in the mud that's already dragging them down?

http://whitneyawards.com/http://www.ala.org/yalsa/morris-awardThe Serpent King, a debut novel by musician Jeff Zentner, is—as you can tell—a bit short on plot.  Its focus is Dill, Lydia, and Travis, and their friendship.  Which is great, except when the story drags because little is actually happening.  I was drawn to The Serpent King because I found its title intriguing and the idea of a cult-like, snake-handling sect fascinating.  Unfortunately, the things I found most beguiling about the novel weren't explored much, leaving me a bit disappointed.  Add in a here, there, and everywhere plot and a loosely constructed story line and yeah, I just didn't end up loving this one.  The book does explore some important ideas about the power of true friendship, not allowing yourself to be defined by the sins of your parents, and finding oneself even in the worst possible situations.  Overall, though, I didn't enjoy this one nearly as much as I wanted to.  I'm in the minority here, though, as The Serpent King has received a number of awards including the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and a Whitney Award for Best Debut Novel of 2016.  If you've read it, what did you think?

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash)

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a couple of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

12 comments:

  1. I felt much like you did. As a matter of fact, I didn't finish it. It seemed like it wall all set up for something to happen, but nothing ever did. I haven't seen many negatives about this book either, so I feel a little better that at least someone feels like it do.

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    1. If I hadn't been reading it as part of the Whitney Committee, I probably wouldn't have finished it either :( I feel like it had a lot of unrealized potential.

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  2. I haven't read this one, but have you read Jane Yolen's Snow in Summer? It sets Snow White among the snake handlers.

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    1. I've never heard of this one, but it sounds fascinating. I'm heading over to my library's website right now to request it. Thanks for the rec!

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  3. I hate when aspects that interest me most are barely touched on! I'm not sure this one is for me either.

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    1. I know! Between the book's title and the synopsis, I really thought there would be more snake-handling.

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  4. I have this one but didn't get to it. I did read his next one and did like it but felt it a little slow. Sorry you didn't enjoy this as much as you thought you would. Great review!

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    1. I'm glad you liked it. I probably won't bother.

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  5. I'm starting to need more character in my stories but I'm still a plot girl. This one sounds too light on plot for me.

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    1. I'm more of a character girl, but I still need at least a semi-interesting plot to keep me reading. If a book has great characters and an intriguing plot, I'm all in!

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  6. I loved it, the characters were so richly drawn, so I guess there was enough plot for me. It also won the Association for Mormon Letters YA Novel Award, edging out Passion of Dolssa. I am reading Passion now, which I also love. http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2017/04/2016-aml-awards/

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    1. Yeah, I seem to be in the minority on this one, but THE SERPENT KING seemed dull and disjointed to me. I am notoriously picky, though :)

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