|The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner
Dill is no stranger to hardship. He's dirt poor, financially supporting his mother, and seems to have zero future prospects. His father, a snake-handling preacher, is in prison; many of his former parishioners blame Dill. Yet Dill has two things that keep him getting up in the morning - his friends Travis and Lydia. The three are strikingly different but are pushed together by their mutual status as social outcasts.
This is a story about friendship, futures, and fighting. It's the first book in a long time that's made me just start bawling - I generally avoid crying if I can, but this book deserved a good cry. It was that moving. I didn't just feel for Dill and his friends, I felt with them - which is saying a lot since I personally have not experienced most of the hardships that Dill and his friends were going through.
The characterization and mood of this book were what made it amazing. The characters were real. They were flawed. They got angry for stupid reasons or were sometimes bossy and blind to the needs of others. Yet they were perfect. They were just what good friends should be. They knew how to love, how to inspire, how to live. The mood of the book was remarkably well-kept. It somehow mixed the darkness of hardship with the light of an amazing friendship.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who likes gritty teen realism. Personally, I volunteer for a texting crisis hotline for teenagers, and I find reading books like these helps me to better relate to the teens that text in. I am currently collecting books that I think would either be good to recommend to troubled teens, or help others in the crisis center to empathize with teens in crisis. I consider this an important collection, and carefully think about each book that I include. This one is a definite yes. Issues that I consider important in this book - religious extremism (and how it impacts youths), family members in prison, bullying, grief, mental illness, and coping mechanisms.