The Serpent King is the southern-gothic YA novel I needed. It follows Dill, the musician son of a disgraced Pentecostal preacher, and his friends as they reckon with family secrets, class divisions, and modern southern identity. Zentner’s take on the misfit teen story is emotionally complex and carefully observed—seriously, be prepared to ugly-cry *a lot* while you read this book.
For me, what tipped the book from good to great is its strong sense of place. Zentner has real affection for the rural south and all the people who live there. The Serpent King offers up a portrait of the modern south that revels in its contradictions.