Please be aware that this review contains some mild spoilers. Do not continue reading unless you are fine with being spoiled.
I’m not going to tell you why exactly The Serpent King ripped my heart out, because I want you to discover it for yourself the way I did. What I WILL tell you is that there were not enough tissues in the world after I read this bloody book.
This debut novel from Jeff Zentner is just mind-blowing. There’s a beautiful balance of character point of view chapters—the switches occur when necessary, not on a simple rotational basis, and each character had a very different voice that was easy to distinguish immediately. I loved that the characters had their own severe faults, so while they weren’t always likeable, they were always painfully, uncomfortably real.
The Serpent King turned a very common issue (worrying about life after high school graduation) into something heartbreaking on every level. While there are horrifying and extraordinary circumstances for some characters, nothing about this novel seems remotely out of place to me.
This novel contains one of the most powerful representations of depression I’ve ever read, and it goes one step further by allowing characters to deal with everything without making it seem like one good day is the cure-all we’ve been searching for. The Serpent King also sheds light on a life that a lot of books skirt around without properly showcasing: actual poverty.
This book is beautifully written, and it’s quite possibly the best debut novel I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to read more from Zentner, and I’ll be recommending this to everyone in the world.