Thursday, July 6, 2017

Audiobook Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Unabridged audiobook on 8 compact discs; 9 hours. Performed by Michael Crouch, Ariadne Meyers, and Ethan Sawyer. Random House/ Books on Tape/ Listening Library, March, 2016. 9780147521316. (Review from copy borrowed from public library)

Dill (Dillard Early Junior) is about to start his senior year of high school and is dreading it for all the usual reasons plus one. He knows his best friend Lydia is blowing their small town of Forestville, Tennessee for college - probably in New York City. So each ritual they have is either a last, or counting down to life without Lydia. He also has a best friend in Travis and Travis isn't going anywhere; but he loves Lydia with all his heart and knows his life will be dimmer without her. 

The three are an unlikely trio bound together because none of them fit in to the small town mindset. Lydia is a free spirit and independent thinker who questions and challenges the status quo constantly. She is lovingly raised by two doting parents. Travis is a gentle giant. He could easily be mistaken for a football player (like his older brother, Matt) due to his size but he'd much rather hunker down to reread his favorite fantasy series than throw a football. He lives in fear of his abusive father, who grieves the loss of his older son and favorite. Matt was killed by an I.E.D. while deployed overseas. And Dill lives with his mother in a rundown house, works many hours to help his mother pay the bills and rarely makes eye contact with people so as not to witness the spark of recognition in their eyes when they connect his name to that of his father's. Dillard Early Sr. is currently serving time in the State Penitentiary for possessing child pornography.

Each chapter switches third-person point-of-view and narrator. The three narrators were spectacular! This is the second audio in a row for me where Michael Crouch was the narrator. I am becoming a real fan and am planning a blog post about him in an effort to prevent birdwalking off this post. I have enjoyed performances by Ariadne Meyers as well. I do believe she and Kirby Heynborne made All the Bright Places a better book than it actually is. Ethan Sawyer is a new-to-me narrator but I sure will look for more.

I am sorry that it took so long to get to read this luminous debut. The age was pegged at high school and I'm way behind with my YA reading. And, truth-be-told, I don't gravitate toward books featuring religion, let alone evangelical religion. But I do read as many award winners as I can and this one won plenty. Deservedly so. The writing is gorgeous. And those three characters! Each one is portrayed so vividly, they leap from the pages. I feared for each one for different reasons. Each one was capable of being the "tragedy" alluded to in the summary.

When it finally happened, on disc 6 of 8, I happened to be gardening and I kneeled in my garden and wept and wept. It was gut-wrenching. I continued on to the next disc with trepidation. I was ironing by then and had to stop, not breathing through the next crisis. Give this to your students/ patrons who adore literary novels that also make you weep. It's not all sadness and gloom though. There is some humor and realistic hope.

This book gave me a book hangover. I did not want to move right on to the next book as is my usual habit (especially during summer). I actually wished I had a print copy to revisit passages. Were I reading with my eyes, multiple sections would be highlighted, Post-It Noted and quoted here. The Serpent King is not to be missed. The hype is real. I can't wait to read the author's sophomore effort, The Good-bye Days. It's available at my library in print version. Michael Crouch narrates the audiobook and I'm debating splurging for it as my library cooperative doesn't own it.

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