Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Release Date: March 2, 2010
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.
Sophie Mercer is exactly the kind of protagonist you want to go on a journey with--spunky, hilarious, kind, doesn't (usually) take herself too seriously. In fact, I kind of wish all things in life could be narrated by Sophie; I would love to get her sassy running commentary on my day-to-day goings on. She would always have some wonderfully sarcastic pop-culture comeback, the two of us would laugh like great chums and commiserate over how little we liked being drooled on by werewolves, and when the goings got rough, I know she would be the kind of friend to stand by me. Come to think of it, I am genuinely bummed that Sophie and I aren't real pals.
But the success of Hex Hall isn't merely due to Sophie's antics. In fact, I am quite certain that Rachel Hawkins is a real witch. This seems the only logical explanation for the wonderfully vivid world she created, not to mention the way she sucked me deep into the depths her story. The novel was extremely faced paced, but it never once felt frenzied. I became so emotionally distraught during the moments that I had to put it down I started to worry I had developed some sort of addiction (or, more likely, that Hawkins had put some spell on me). As the reader, you learn about this new magical world alongside Sophie, who is the only student at Hex Hall that didn't grow up with a magical parent, thus rendering her pretty clueless. I tend to find protagonists that are out of loop frustrating because they seem so oblivious, but this book threw me for several twists and turns, so I'm not surprised that Sophie didn't catch on either.
This novel has all the elements I need to have a happy reading experience: you have the witty, often overly dramatic Sophie, the funny and sweet outcast best friend, the sexy off-limits man candy, boarding school, magic, a murder mystery, and top it all off with a ball and sparkly gowns. I know all of these things sound like your run of the mill YA cliches (I mean, you even have the gorgeous trio of evil-seeming popular girls), but I promise you that Hex Hall is more than the regular elements all shoved together. If you are like me, you were probably already reluctant to read the book because of its cover (sorry all, not a huge fan...) which looks like a mainstream YA book for the younger end of the genre. Do not make the same mistake as me! Underneath its unassuming, slightly cheesy packaging lies an engrossing book and memorable characters.
It took me a little longer than usual to get around to this review, and I have read several books in the meantime, but I find that my thoughts wander back to Hex Hall disproportionally more than to the other stories I've finished. I think wistfully about attending the school and hanging out with witches (I wouldn't mind a little tête-à-tête with Archer either), so it's certainly disappointing to remember that I can't actually go there. The good news being that sometimes I feel as though I have with Rachel Hawkins delightfully addicting writing. I give Hex Hall a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars accompanied by much excitement for the next installment.