Title: Hex Hall #01: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“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 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.”
Thoughts: Hex Hall is a perfect example of great paranormal YA. Rachel Hawkins does not reinvent the various myths regarding witches, fairies and shifters but rather explains them within a modern context. The characters, while somewhat formulaic, are still immensely entertaining. Better yet, they are not nearly as black and white as they could be, meaning there is a complexity behind each character which prevents them from being true caricatures. The resident mean girl isn’t necessarily all bad; the hottie is not quite a perfect catch. Even Jenna and Sophie have to work at maintaining their friendship; they argue, make amends, give and take like in any good friendship. In spite of all the paranormal elements, that are in and of themselves quite intriguing, Ms. Hawkins presents a story that is incredibly normal and realistic.
The idea of a school for witches and warlocks is not foreign. It was done long before J.K. Rowling made Hogwarts a household name. However, Ms. Hawkins takes the idea of a school for witchcraft one step further by including former fringe groups. I cannot think of a single book that combines fairies, vampires, werewolves, witches and wizards, and ghosts and has them not only living together but getting along and working together. This not-so-subtle message about inclusion is a great reminder for teens and adults alike. Hex Hall itself is also refreshingly down-to-earth. Little magic is done on school grounds; the school itself is not a prestigious mansion or foreboding castle but rather a dilapidated building with a completely mismatched extension. If one could ignore the magical artifacts and various spells, then one would consider the story to be about average teens sent off to a regular boarding school.
The story itself is fun, engaging, and fast-paced. The plot flows smoothly, and the dialogue is witty. Outside of the magical elements, the story itself does not fall into the trap of outlandishness and could easily be a plot line for characters without paranormal powers. As this is the first in a trilogy, there are only hints at greater issues than what is occurring at Hecate, but the lack of answers does not detract from this single book’s story arc. Rather, it provides compelling reasons to continue the series, not that a reader will need an excuse.
Hex Hall was a thrilling read for a gloomy Sunday morning. Ms. Hawkins has done a marvelous job entering a supremely competitive genre with her own unique take on the key elements. With the second book in the trilogy out already and the third book to be released next year, millions of fans of paranormal YA agree.