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Jeff Zentner was a singer-songwriter and guitarist who released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. He is now an appellate attorney for the State of Tennessee and lives in Nashville with his wife and son. He wrote The Serpent King in a month, writing on his mobile phone on his commute and at night, weekends and lunchtimes between court cases.
Photo credit: Steve Cross
Smart, soulful, authentic and original, there’s no doubt that Zentner is an outstanding YA writer. His debut novel was a southern gothic gem, his second an incisive account of grief and guilt, while this is a contemporary coming-of-age classic, replete with a heartrending road trip, feverish romance and LOLs aplenty. About to graduate from high school, best friends Josie and Delia host a humorous horror movie show on public access TV, with Delia channeling her estranged dad’s love of low-budget fright fests and Josie working towards a career in TV. Experts in the art of witty back-and-forth tennis-rally banter, the girls are super close, but unsettling changes are on the horizon. Delia is desperately torn-up by being abandoned by her dad and, having tracked him down to Florida, has to decide whether she wants to contact him, just when it looks like Josie is about to leave her to take up an internship in another city. While this simmers, and as Delia struggles with being “the mother to my mother”, they’re invited to attend Shivercon. Seeing this gathering of horror moviemakers as the ideal opportunity to meet and enlist the support of an iconic presenter, they embark on a twelve-hour road-trip to Florida with Josie’s new boyfriend Lawson in tow, and Delia now set on seeing her dad. Josie and Lawson’s unexpected romance is as head-over-heels uplifting as Delia’s reunion with her dad is poignant, and there are plenty of entertaining plot twists and moments of everyday magic as this novel wends to a heartfelt conclusion.
April 2016 NewGen Debut of the Month. High school student Dill knows what it is to feel “the crushing weight of destiny”. His granddad went mad after a copperhead viper killed his daughter, and his dad, a fanatical Pentecostal minister, makes his congregation handle deadly serpents to prove their faith. While his father is now in prison for a terrible crime, Dill feels shackled by these family demons, and also by poverty, bullying and a fiercely religious mum who blames Dill for his father’s imprisonment. Dill also knows he’s lucky to have friends like Travis and Lydia. While staff-wielding Travis finds sanctuary from his violent drunk of a dad in fantasy books, Lydia is an energetic fashion blogger from the right side of the tracks. But everything shifts as the three friends embark on their last year of high school. Lydia is all set to study journalism in New York, Travis is excited about his burgeoning relationship with a fellow fantasy geek, but Dill has no hope for his future. He’s terrified of losing Lydia, and terrified that he’s already been poisoned by his family’s legacy. He finds some solace in song-writing but, when tragedy strikes, Dill descends to a very dark place and it takes supreme strength and love to untangle himself from the strangling grip of grief and despair. This southern gothic story about small-town small-mindedness, religious fanaticism, wrestling family demons and the redemptive power of friendship really is an exquisite gem; an unforgettably haunting tale that imprints itself on your heart. ~ Joanne Owen