About thirty minutes ago I closed the book I had just finished. It was The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. This is a YA book that I am discussing at my book club tomorrow night. I've moved around my house like a bit of a zombie for the past half hour, putting potatoes on the grill, checking to see what Luke was doing upstairs (reading), talking to my dog. Nothing could pull my mind from where it was, inhabiting the tiny rural Tennessee town with Travis, Lydia, and Dill.
This book takes your heart and twists it, letting go at regular intervals so that you think you've caught your breath, only to lose it again. Here we meet this trio at the start of their senior year in high school. Lydia's future is already planned - her fashion blog has her set on a life in New York City, and she will be shedding this small town, and her two friends, to get there. Travis will be staying in their town, working in the lumber yard, but living in the fantasy world in his head, based on the Bloodfall book series he so loves. Then there is Dill. The son of a fallen preacher, who worked with snakes, and currently resides in a Nashville prison. These three friends are looking down the tunnel of senior year, some with excitement to get through, some with dread for what's to come.
There were so many moments that I found myself laughing on one page only to turn it and gasp with horror on another. Turning the page again I would find myself wiping away tears. This book is good. So good. When my son asked for a potato with his dinner tonight I looked up, grateful that no one in my house was phased by the tears working their way down my face as I read. This is normal, this falling into a book.
And it is in my classroom as well. The only thing I enjoy about PARCC testing week at school is that my students and I get extra time to read. Friday afternoon found us in various parts of the classroom, devouring pages. I was working with a student at a table in the front of the room when I heard a gasp. I looked up and locked eyes with Payton. She's reading Maximum Ride Forever by James Patterson, the last book in the series. I had read it the weekend before. She mouthed a character's name at me and I nodded my head, knowing exactly what part she was at. She made a little moan and buried her head on her arms, shoulders shaking. My student at the front was still reading from a book for me, so I quietly stood up, grabbed the Kleenex box from the shelf behind me, looked over as Josie stood up, tossed the box to her, and she brought it to Payton, hand on her shoulder. The other students looked over, murmured words to Payton, some putting The Maximum Ride series on their to read lists, and went back to their books.
There are many reasons I want my students to be readers, but this is a huge part. I want them to feel the grief you have for the characters you love. How you can live so many lives through them. How you can care about characters so much in tears your heart in two. How you can finish a book and not want to start another one because what can possibly measure up. How you can love books and stories so much, they become part of you. I want this for them.
As for me, I'm left wondering what on earth I will read next. And The Serpent King? It's off to one of my former students tomorrow. Others need to read this. It's that good.