Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release Date: March 2010
Recommended for Ages: 14 and up
Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.
I enjoyed "Hex Hall" a lot. I wasn't sure that I would, given my track record with supernatural novels. But the premise sounded fun and I suppose I still had hope that supernatural writer could still craft a believable and compelling story instead of just cashing in on the popularity of the genre. I am happy to report that "Hex Hall" did not disappoint (FINALLY!)
The best part about this book that I want to focus my review on is two characters: Sophie and Jenna. The story is told from Sophie's first-person POV and she is a delight. Her personality shines through the narration - she's sarcastic, she's witty, she's fun - but she's also shy, awkward, a little clumsy and she has some great reactionary moments. And the best part? I DIDN'T NEED HER TO TELL ME ANY OF THAT!!! (Take notes, Bella Swan. No, use the pencil... that long yellow pointy thing with the black tip). All those quirks and traits came through in her voice and that is a tribute to Rachel Hawkins' writing style and the characters she creates. I wanted Sophie to succeed and expand her magical talents - I cared about what was happening to her. I was mad at her father for never showing up in her life and I had no idea why people were being so cagey about her family's past. And, yes, I even fell a little bit in love with Archer the same way Sophie did (although, I think Cal is much cuter and I hope we here from him in future novels).
Okay - on to Jenna. Jenna is a vampire, the only student at Hex Hall who is. When I read that Jenna was a vampire, I admit I rolled my eyes and thought "Oh, here we go - another emo, I-am-a-monster-I-want-to-die-but-not-before-gettin'-jiggy-with-it character" (seriously - why are vampires always written as being obsessed with sex? They're worse than frat boys). But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jenna is not any of those things. Sure, she is a little broody and mopey, but she has valid reasons for that (her former roommate had been brutally murdered on school grounds. She was blamed for it initially, but they couldn't prove she'd done anything). However, Jenna's friendship with Sophie quickly turned Jenna into a very likable person. I even forgot that Jenna was a vampire for a little while because of it. It was only when dead bodies started showing up and Jenna was being blamed for it that I remembered what she really was. In fact, the characters in this book are very comfortable about being witches, shapeshifters and fairies that this could have been any realistic fiction taking place in any high school in America - well, any high school that had "Classifications of Shapeshifters" on the curriculum.
Basically, "Hex Hall" is what I imagined "Twilight" would be when before I read the latter. I was vastly disappointed in "Twilight," to be honest. I mean, how can you turn an interesting premise like a vampire in love with a human and turn it into a pile of boring tripe? I've kind of been down on supernatural stories lately because of the glut of them in the market due in no small part to "Twilight"'s popularity. Many of their plots have been as flat and cardboard as "Twilight" was (people say Stephenie Meyer has no writing talent. I say these people are nuts. It takes at least some amount of talent to write a sex scene that's as exciting as watching paint dry. No, wait - watching paint dry is more exciting. At least something happens). But "Hex Hall" has renewed my faith in the supernatural genre. Kudos to Rachel Hawkins for showing that supernatural stories don't have to be the new Harlequin romance genre any more than disaster movies have to be sappy chick flicks (ahem, Titanic). You can have a compelling and interesting narrative without the unbelievable love triangle that books like "Twilight" and "Evermore" have done (oh - I need to post my "Evermore" review on this blog - that one was a doozy).
Phew - that's enough about "Twilight" (one of these days I will enumerate my problems with those books just so you know I have legitimate complaints about it).
Anyway, if you're like me and think the supernatural genre is a waste of time and shelf space, I would ask you to seriously consider reading "Hex Hall." I think of it as "Harry Potter" meets "The Princess Diaries" meets "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." It's lots of fun with a hint of spooky darkness that doesn't diminish the engaging storytelling. Plus, there are plenty of mysteries still to be solved in future books and I look forward to that as well.
One more thing - the cover art for these books is gorgeous. I'm sort of hoping there will be some significance about the mirror images. Even if there isn't, I will just enjoy them - I really like the effect and the colors.