Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review--"Hex Hall" by Rachel Hawkins

Good Monday,

Today I will review, as this post’s title suggests, “Hex Hall” by Rachel Hawkins.

Before I do, however, I need to step back and take a moment to address the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT. Three days ago on December 14, 26 people were killed in a school shooting in Newtown. Twenty of those 26 were children. Two days ago, I gave the following tribute on my author page. I give it again this evening.

I do not have children of my own. I cannot imagine how the parents who lost elementary-aged children must feel now. I would love to promise them and every other parent that this will never happen again. Sadly, that is not in my power.

Paying a tribute to the victims and their loved ones, however, is in my power, and that is what I intend to do now.

This video comes from the Christmas Concert from sophomore year of my undergraduate career. I first sang this song in high school. When I sang it for Christmas in college, it hit me how it didn’t match the joyful carols typical of this time of year. I hate that it is appropriate at all but hate even more that it is appropriate during a time that is meant to be about family, caring, joy, and giving.

To the victims (children and adults) and the loved ones of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012, my heart goes out to you.

Prayer of the Children

Please join me in a moment of silence for the victims.


Thank you

And now back to my review.


Hex Hall
By Rachel Hawkins

Published by: Hyperion Book – 2010

Genre: young adult fantasy

In the wake of a love spell gone horribly wrong, Sophie Mercer, a sixteen-year-old witch, is shipped off to Hecate Hall, a boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. The traumas of mortal high school are nothing compared to the goings on at "Freak High". It's bad enough that she has to deal with a trio of mean girls led by the glamorous Elodie, but it's even worse when she begins to fall for Elodie's gorgeous boyfriend, Archer Cross, and frankly terrifying that the trio are an extremely powerful coven of dark witches. But when Sophie begins to learn the disturbing truth about her father, she is forced to face demons both metaphorical and real, and come to terms with her own growing power as a witch

I’ve since read all three books in the series. The first one remains my favorite.

At the beginning, “Hex Hall” has the appearance of any typical young adult book where the main character uses her powers to an alarming degree and is then swept off to some secret boarding school where she will be around others of her kind and learn to hone her magic. Sophie Mercer fits the mold. She’s super-powerful (the show of her power makes her seem even more powerful than she knows), but what is a bit different is that she knows exactly what she is from the get go. More often, the confused teen is unsure of why they can do such awesome stuff. Sophie knows. Granted, she doesn’t know all of the truth, but the fact that she knows anything about the magical world puts her leaps and bounds ahead of similar heroines. That made her refreshing.

Hecate (Hex) Hall also starts off seeming pretty typical. It fits into the “magic school that’s falling apart” mold (as opposed to the mystical castle/overly put-together building one), and it’s situated far from “normal” humans, complete with spells warding its true nature.

Beyond that, the character setup is fairly standard. Sophie is the plain-looking new girl. First onto the scene is Archer Cross—the popular guy with the name that stands out. What’s nice about Sophie’s initial encounter with Archer is, while they don’t hit it off right away (pretty typical), her first thought of him is that he’s not all that attractive. In place of the “gorgeous guy who is inevitably a jerk,” this is a small detail that made me want to keep reading because it was different.

Fast forward a bit and we meet Sophie’s roommate—the student that no one else likes, Jenna. Okay, that’s typical. It’s not too typical that Jenna is the only vampire student (especially in the recent explosion of vampire books), and her obsession with the most vibrant shades of pink isn’t too surprising. It’s nice that she isn’t the quiet, brooding vamp, though.

And then we meet Elodie and her followers. Elodie—the gorgeous popular girl with the flawless skin, long and flowing hair, and, of course, the gorgeous boyfriend (you guessed it), Archer Cross. Add to this that Elodie takes an immediate disliking to Sophie, and you have a pretty typical teenage girl feud brewing. The inevitable crush that Sophie develops on Archer only feeds this.

Okay, so the setup is pretty average for the type of story. However, there was just enough of something different and refreshing to keep me wanting to read. That coupled with Sophie’s light, fun tone carried me through the book.

What happens from there? We dive a bit farther into the typical. Sophie ends up in a situation where she’s forced to spend time with Archer. Elodie and Sophie’s dislike of each other only intensifies. Elodie’s friends begin to turn up dead, and Jenna (Sophie’s only real friend) is blamed. It’s nothing I wasn’t expecting, yet under all that there was a feeling that something different was happening.

Sophie begins to take magic lessons from the ghost of a relative. Her power grows. Elodie, after the death of her second friend, begins to spend more time with Sophie, accompanying her to lessons.

And then the ahuh moment.

As expected, Archer and Sophie grow closer until they have their first hot moment. In the middle of that, Archer breaks the mold for the typical attractive, popular guy. He becomes the enemy. Now maybe I should have, but I did not see that coming. I saw a host of other fates for archer but not that.

There are some other ahuh moments as well, but some things should be left a mystery.

So in terms of surprise value, the first two-thirds of the book are pretty standard for the story type. The fun, fast-paced narration and action keep the story moving, and, by the end, no one is who they first appeared to be.

I don’t have anything truly negative to say about this book. I would have liked to see more of the relationship progression between Sophie and Archer. There were points where it felt glossed over.

I do have to say, though, despite the rather typical beginning, the book was not riddled with teen angst. Even at her worst moments, Sophie acknowledges that her emotions are over-the-top. Those moments, though, aren’t so drawn out and so over-done that I wanted to throw the book across the room. Hawkins wrote teenagers who didn’t whine constantly, who didn’t make mountains out of every little mole hill, who reasoned things out. That, more than anything, persuaded me to read the rest of the series. I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to follow Sophie, and I wanted to do both of these because I didn’t feel trapped in some irritating kid’s head.

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