Zentner's The Serpent King absolutely destroyed me. It was fantastic and I completely ugly cried while reading it. That was actually a nice surprise, because the title and summary were kind of underwhelming. I avoided it for months before cracking it open, and I'm so glad I finally did. Seriously – go read it.
And guess what – Zentner has written a second novel! Be prepared for some more heart stomping in Goodbye Days.
One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.
Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.
Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.
Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison? – Goodreads
This book is absolutely beautiful – definitely equal to Zentner's first book. I've been trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes his books so damn good. His world building is fantastic and the plots are solid – but that isn't what makes his books great. It's his characters.
Zentner has a talent for creating characters that are deeply flawed and incredibly realistic. I felt Carver's grief for his friends, and his fear for the future. I understood the rage of Mars' father and felt so much sadness for Blake's grandmother. These characters leap off the page and breathe.
I suppose it goes without saying that this book is incredibly emotional. I didn't ugly cry this time, but I felt so drained by the end. I don't regret reading it though. A book or author this good is rare, and I encourage everyone to pick up Zentner's books. Just grab tissues too.