It is only so often a book truly grips my soul, holds on tight, and never lets go. There is no magic realm in which to get lost in, no epic romance to find your heart breaking for, no thrill to keep you at the edge of your seat. This book is simply about life, the trials, the tests, and the hardships. Jeff Zentner captures reality in a raw and unforgiving way. He beats around no bushes and tells it like it is. Through the eyes of three high school seniors, Jeff shows just how scary, magical, loving, sad, amazing, and horrible the world around us is.
“We are a fallen species, spitting on the gift of salvation. Humanity is irredeemable”
Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.
This will be one of those books that I remember for a long time. I already find myself wanting to reread it. The words within these pages are so beautifully written. The words reached out and touched me and I couldn’t help but cry, laugh, cry some more, then be left speechless. There were so many points within this book that I found myself thinking, “wow this author knows exactly how to capture the essence of life”. All the things I have ever felt he puts in, all the things I love about the world around me he details, all my fears he took out of the shadows and cast them in front of me. The scariest thing about this book is that any one of us could be one of these characters, know them, or have walked among them and not have known their true story. The world can be cruel or it could be beautiful. Jeff shows us this in the unfortunate lives of Dill and Travis but also in the fortunate life of Lydia. He teaches us the value of friendship, the value of life, and how a little determination can go a long way. Jeff reminds us that you are not the labels that people cast upon you. He touches on loss, depression, extreme religion, child abuse, first love, and so many more topics. Although I don’t have experience in some of those topics, thankfully, I do in others and Jeff nailed them all perfectly. This coming of age read is so amazing I recommend any one and everyone to read it.
“And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things”