Review by Heather Trese
Hex Hall is the story of Sophie Mercer, a 16-year-old who found out three years ago that she's a witch. She lives in the regular world for a few years until one too many things go wrong, and she’s sentenced to live out her remaining teenage life at a school/reformation center for other supernatural beings called Hectate Hall. The book introduces fantasy elements without being in-your-face about it, and even though I love that aspect of the book (and the fact that Hawkins freely references Harry Potter in an extremely appropriate way), what I love even more is that, by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew Sophie and all of her quirks. More than that, I wanted to be her friend. I found her hilarious and sarcastic and smart, but not in-your-face about it. I felt like I was really reading from a teenager's point of view, but not once was I annoyed with trivialities, and I don't remember there being an "OMG!!!" or a "like, totally!" to be found. But not for one second did I doubt that Sophie was 16. She made me laugh with her quick-witted retorts. She was genuine. She gushed over boys in almost the same breath that she condemned them. She simultaneously hated her mom and loved her. Her vocabulary was appropriate for her age, and she didn't talk down to the reader. I honestly can't remember the last time that I thought a first-person contemporary teen narrator was this genuine, believable, and just plain fun.
More than that, Hawkins addresses some very real-world issues in this book, even though it's set in a fantasy world. She deals with jealousy, angst, teen sexuality, crushes, friendships, and just what makes a gorgeous prom dress. There is backstabbing, secrets, betrayal, mystery, and a slight cliffhanger ending that is enough to make you excited for the second book, but not so suspenseful that you feel as if everything went unresolved. The mysteries that are interwoven throughout the book leave readers questioning everything - even when you want to believe a certain character is innocent or guilty, the evidence doesn't always stack up that way, and you will find yourself questioning almost everyone's motives. There was even a moment when I literally said out loud, “WHAT?? NononononononoNO!!!!” Future readers will know precisely what moment I’m talking about, I’m sure.
The characters were wonderfully vivid, and the setting had just the right amount of magic. All in all, this was an enjoyable read from cover to cover. I look forward to reading more from Rachel Hawkins - she is definitely an author to keep an eye on. It’s difficult to imagine that Hawkins is a debut author, but fortunately she’s already hard at work on Hex Hall 2, which hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for.
Heather is a magazine editor and freelance writer by day and an aspiring YA novelist by night. Find her online at her blog, See Heather Write or on Twitter, @HeatherTrese.