The Serpent King

The Serpent King
Written by Jeff Zentner

Publisher’s Summary:
Dill isn’t the most popular kid at his rural Tennessee high school. After his father fell from grace in a public scandal that reverberated throughout their small town, Dill became a target. Fortunately, his two fellow misfits and best friends, Travis and Lydia, have his back.

But as they begin their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. His only escapes are music and his secret feelings for Lydia–neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending–one that will rock his life to the core.

Debut novelist Jeff Zentner provides an unblinking and at times comic view of the hard realities of growing up in the Bible belt, and an intimate look at the struggles to find one’s true self in the wreckage of the past.

Primary Source Pairing:
Told in three character’s points of view, the book, set in the Bible Belt of the United States, will leave an impression on your heart long after the story is over. In the book, Dill, Lydia, and Travis are in their senior year at Forrestville High School in Tennessee. Lydia is a fashionista stuck in this small town with a fashion blog that is her ticket out to the big city. Travis is a big fan of Raynor Northbrook and the Bloodfall series, a popular fantasy book series, and he spends a lot of his time talking with others on the Bloodfall online forums, often to avoid his unpredictable, abusive father. Dill is taking it one day at a time with a name that is the same as his father’s, a pastor who is currently in jail.

The setting of this book is a character in and of itself. So is religion. Dill’s religious childhood and his father’s association with serpents and faith have jarred his beliefs. In the book, Dill frequently looks up the street to the Calvary Baptist Church and reads the sign in front seeking wisdom or inspiration. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of the church sign in Chicago shown above to begin the discussion of the role of religion in this book.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  • How do the church signs guide or inspire Dill?
  • What role does religion play in The Serpent King?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Church Sign: Library of Congress