I finished two more books in July, making the monthly total six books! I’m also one book down for August. There are no major spoilers here apart from what you can get reading basic information online 🙂
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
“Wanting to believe something is powerful.”
I read almost this entire book on the plane ride from Orlando to San Francisco (I started the book the night before and was a couple of chapters in). At first, it kind of reminded me of The Cresswell Plot— both feature highly “religious” fathers who are basically the opposite of a good person. I want to go on here about the dad in The Serpent King, but I won’t spoil anything. In the end, though, this book was very different from my previous read.
The Serpent King follows three high school seniors living in rural Tennessee: Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Dill is an impoverished only child, living alone with his mother because his father, a Pentecostal minister who urged his congregation to handle rattlesnakes and drink poison, is now in jail. Lydia is an Internet-famous fashion blogger who is anxious to get out of their small town and to her dream school of NYU, and Travis mainly works and reads his favorite book series, Bloodfall, which seems to be similar to something like Game of Thrones. Although the three are very different from one another, they are a tight group of friends. Most of this book is about them navigating their present hardships and conflicting futures, but there is another plot line that is best kept secret before you read the book.
My rating: 4.5/5 stars. This book was a lot different than I thought it would be. For some reason, every time I saw it in stores I assumed it was a fantasy novel. However, Travis’s obsession with Bloodfall is about as close to fantasy as this series gets. I really enjoyed this book (hence my ability to basically read it cover-to-cover). I think one of my favorite parts was how realistic the characters were to me. There was at least one instance in the book where I decided that I didn’t like each of the characters… I didn’t like the choices he or she was making, I didn’t agree with that character’s perspective, I didn’t think the character was treating the others well. I changed my mind about who I “sided with” a lot. While this may be a frustrating reading experience to some, I enjoyed it because that is often my experience with real people. No one is perfect; we all have flaws. These characters were real, and I could feel for them more. The Serpent King was dark and dealt with very real issues, like depression, in a realistic way as well. In fact, I think this novel has one of the better descriptions of what it is like to go through depression. I could probably go on about this book for a long time, but my overall recommendation would be to read it yourself! Let me know what y you think 🙂
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
“Moving on doesn’t mean you don’t talk about it. Or hurt about it. It’s always going to hurt, I imagine.”
(Before I begin, this book has a trigger warning of rape content.) This book was reserved for the flight home (or rather, the long waiting period when my flight was delayed). I didn’t read Luckiest Girl Alive cover-to-cover, but I did find the book pretty engaging. And, like The Serpent King, this book ended up being a lot different than I anticipated. At first, the narrator seemed scary to me: a combination of “cool girl” Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), psychopath Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), and a self-improvement seeking Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby). Ani FaNelli is not a serial killer, but the way she talked about the world around her and her obvious reconstruction of herself after an initially unnamed event in high school reminded me of these other characters. In actuality, she had very little in common with them, except for the whole “redefining oneself” that Gatsby has going on. However, I am getting ahead of myself…
Luckiest Girl Alive is about late-twenties Ani FaNelli, a girl who seems to have it all: an expensive New York (ahem Manhattan) lifestyle, a job as a writer at a popular women’s magazine, and a rich fiancé. However, Ani has not always been this way; she was previously TifAni FaNelli, a teenager trying to fit in at the prestigious Bradley School who endures not just one, but several, dark and connected events. She was trying to reinvent herself before that point, but a certain event becomes a catalyst for the person we meet at the beginning of the novel. As the story progresses, it is clear that although FaNelli seems to make every choice based on the lifestyle she aspires to, she doesn’t actually like living that lifestyle very much. An opportunity to be a part of a documentary being made about a tragedy she endured in high school begins to set in motion her path to finding her true self.
My rating: 2.5/5 stars. I feel like the main character really changed in the novel, leaving me with someone completely different than who I started with. Some may call this character development, but sometimes this development lacked flow. This book also deals with a lot of serious topics… possibly too many to cover in one book (but I suppose life doesn’t necessarily work out that way). I think it deals with the complexity of these topics well for the most part, showing the struggles of being a victim and especially the struggles of enduring victim blaming. The narrator is a complex character, and although the events in her life impacted her, they didn’t really define who she was (she always seemed complex). I don’t regret reading this book, but I don’t think I would read it again. It wasn’t as memorable as Gone Girl, which it is compared to on the cover, but it was a good summer read.
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
“You can’t live for someone else. At some point you just explode.”
This is my third Matthew Quick novel (I’ve previously read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and The Silver Linings Playbook), and I believe he is one of my favorite authors! His books have yet to disappoint me. Although Quick (“Q”) doesn’t write exclusively for a young adult audience, his latest Every Exquisite Thing is a young adult book- my favorite genre! I was introduced to it initially on a Buzzfeed list and picked it up a couple of months ago when I saw it in the store.
Every Exquisite Thing tells the store of high school senior Nanette O’Hare, a star soccer player who seems to be looking for something more. Unlike all of her peers, Nanette spends her lunch periods eating with one of her favorite teachers, who gifts her a copy of the out-of-print cult classic The Bubblegum Reaper. Nanette, like her teacher before her, instantly becomes obsessed with the story and its protagonist, a teenager named Wrigley who wants to just “quit” (although what he wants to quit is not direct). Nanette discovers that the author of the book lives in her town, and she meets and befriends him. Their relationship opens up several other relationships for Nanette. As she applies the themes of The Bubblegum Reaper to her life, Nanette discovers (and rediscovers) that she isn’t quite who she wants to be.
My rating: 4.5/5 stars. I liked this book a lot! I think the only reason that I didn’t give it 5 stars is because the themes didn’t speak to me as much as the themes in other books that I’d put on my list of favorites did. While they are important themes that I’m sure are very real to a lot of people, I didn’t identify too much with them. I did like how it deals with mental health issues, particularly the use of therapy, and it is unique in that it covers the idea of “relapse,” although it isn’t directly stated as such here (in fact, a specific diagnosis isn’t given except a brief mention of depression). The choices that some of the adults made in this book were disappointing, but at the same time the book does a nice job of showing that adults don’t have all of the answers, and, in fact, teenagers may have some (what a concept!– for those who know me, I am all for youth voice). One of the best parts of this book is it has a lot of direct references to other books and poems in it, which are cool to supplement it with. I would recommend this book to fans of young adult literature, people who find that they want to escape the daily grind/conformity, and people interested in relationships between adults and teenagers.