Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Expected publication: March 8th, 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House
Judging by the title, I thought this book had some fantasy/magical elements in it (I hate knowing too much about a book before I start reading it since it tends to spoil my reading experience more often than not). I was obviously wrong. This book is a very realistic depiction of what it can be like to grow up as a social outcast. And my god, was this done ever so majestically.
“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.
He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.”
We follow the lives of three 17-year-olds: best friends Dill, Lydia and Travis, who live in Forrestville, a (fictional?) shithole town in Tennesee named after one of the former leaders of the KKK.
Dill is a dreamy looking musician who probably would’ve been the high school heartthrob if it wasn’t for his dysfunctional family. His father, a minister of a crazy town church has been sent to jail after the local authorities found a massive children’s porn collection on his home computer. Dill’s mother blames Dill for it. Dill’s father becomes even more of a religious batshit crazy fanatic in prison.
I really liked Dill and could see a lot of myself in him, always wanting to please everyone and put your family’s needs above your own ones. Plus, he’s a musician (me too) and an awesome one as well (me, not so much).
Lydia is the daughter of the local dentist and his wife, a real estate agent. These two people are probably the most supportive parents I’ve ever read about. I’m not complaining about mine, but damn! Lydia has a very strong personality that you either love or hate, I think. I wasn’t sure at first, but after reading she’s a huge fan of the TV series Freaks and Geeks (which, like so many other great shows, only ran one season before it was canceled), I decided we were BFF’s from then on.
She runs her own blog about fashion and reached an influential status with it most of us can only dream of. At school, however, she’s still an outcast because no one cares about fashion blogs there. It’s all about being pretty and sharing the same opinion everybody else has. Lydia doesn’t give two shits about this, though, and pretty much deflects all of it by using her amazing sense of sharp and sarcastic humour.
“Lydia set down her book with a smile. “Yeah, we informed the police at the same time we put your names on the National Micropenis Registry. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble at the airport. Among other places.”
“I’ll show you my dick,” Hunter said.
“Remember, I wear glasses.” Lydia picked up her book.”
The only thing I didn’t like about Lydia is that she’s being a total jerk to her dad. He deserves better than to be treated like a personal butler.
The last of the three friends, Travis, is an obese kid who’s more into fictional wizardry than the real world. He loves walking around with a staff and always carries a copy of one the books of his beloved Bloodfall series with him. That’s fodder for being bullied, but Travis doesn’t let it get to him all too much. Partly because he’s so absorbed in his reading, but also because of his impressive size, he doesn’t need to be afraid of anyone, really.
His home is Domestic Violence Central 2.0, with an abusive father and a mother who is too afraid to stand up to him. Travis is also pretty passive about the whole ordeal but less so than his mother. This guy is someone I would’ve loved to be friends with because of his sincere friendly nature and, well, avid bookworms unite! Plus, I would’ve finally had someone to play D&D with.
I think the fact that I could relate to all of the three main characters is what made this book so special to me. I was an outcast as well during high school and sometimes, it really got to me, yet other times, I couldn’t give two shits either. I wasn’t going to change myself into a completely different person just to be able to fit in. I tried the different clothes approach, though, but that was mainly it. And heck, I made it through as well!
So, this book. It could’ve been so stereotypical, but instead, it hits all of the aforementioned subjects with flawless precision. The emotions, the feelings, the coming of age in a rural town where you’re slightly ‘different’ from the other kids, the intensity of what depression feels like… This was, hands down, one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years.
Unlike some of the other people who reviewed this book and thought it was great, I didn’t cry once. Not because it didn’t affect me. It really did, so I’m wondering now if I’m secretly turning into a stone cold biatch. Usually, I would’ve bawled my eyes out over this kind of stuff *shrugs*. Nonetheless, this doesn’t influence my rating at all. It gets five shiny stars and a solid recommendation for everyone within the age span of 15 to infinity.
I want to end this review with a video of Mr.Jeff Rosso, the Guidance Counselor in Freaks and Geeks whom I believe to have been the inspiration for Guidance Counselor Hippie Joe in The Serpent King (if this isn’t the case, they’ll still remain the same person in my imagination). Even though Hippie Joe only plays a very small part in the book, I still loved his character being in there. Rock on! (and please don’t pay too much attention to the Spanish subtitles, this was the best version I could find)
Thanks to Penguin Random House UK Children’s for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley!
Links to the book: