Jeff Zentner’s debut novel, “The Serpent King,” focuses on three teen friends in Forrestville, Tennessee – a town named after the founder of the KKK and full of small-minded people. Dillard “Dill” Early Jr. is struggling to fit in after the arrest of his snake-handling preacher father who was caught with child porn. Dill is friends with Lydia, a rich girl with a popular lifestyle blog who dreams of making it in New York City. Rounding out the trio of friends is Travis, who treats life as if it is a role-playing convention for the fantasy book with which he’s obsessed.
The three seem unlikely friends, but Zentner’s prose makes it work. The story takes place during their senior year as they deal with fitting in, abusive parents and extreme poverty. More than just a “coming of age” book, this is a book about love, resiliency and survival.
Interestingly, Zentner wrote this book on his iPhone while commuting to and from work in downtown Nashville.