Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

        Craving a good hit of YA fantasy, I recently picked up a book from the library: Rachel Hawkins's Hex Hall. The novel is about a girl named Sophie Mercer who discovers she has magical powers and goes to a boarding school for magically-inclined teenagers. Classic high school drama ensues.
        The novel gets a 7/10 for execution, and a 2/10 for originality. The book feels as though Ms. Hawkins ate the Harry Potter books and then vomited them all up. There's practically no pretense of creativity because the book is swarming with cliches. From the rundown half-castle half-house school, to the evil headmistress, to the story's Main Bad Guys, Hex Hall is essentially every fantasy story that you've ever read - in one book. All the "stock" suspects are here: the awkward protagonist, the resident bad boy with secrets to hide and his catty girlfriend, a roommate with a depressing backstory, creepy ghosts, and mysterious dads. A few stock characters are fine - but putting nearly all of them (except the awkward nerd) in one book seems a bit excessive. Hawkins's choices of people is off-putting. The author tries to turn such run-of-the-mill characters into people with depth: the protagonist Sophie Mercer and other well-explored characters are all nicely well-rounded, with entertaining stories and secrets to discover. Even "bad boy" Archer was well done, and his subplot involves a couple of nasty surprises. But despite the characters' fleshing out, none of the people seemed to ever truly break from their stock roles.
          In terms of plot and pacing the novel moves quickly, with the beginning of the book being relatively slow compared to the last fifty pages. Unfortunately it is easy for the reader to predict future events, which is disappointing; the story seemed predictable and almost ho-hum in terms of previous exposure. For example, what fantasy reader hasn't read a showdown like the one in Hex Hall before?
         Hex Hall, like most fantasy stories, has a very dark ribbon running through it. There are creepy demons, the universe's essential evil power, a murder mystery, and some especially graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger readers. But the heavy themes are nothing fiction readers haven't read before. Plus, the spooky undertone is balanced by all the hilarity.
          Sophie seems to favor a Mean Girls-esque tone. Between the protagonist's biting sarcasm and pop culture references, Hawkins's novel has much to offer in the way of humor. For example, Sophie's roommate Jenna balances a disturbing life story with a sense of fun and loyalty. Sophie has many conversations with her roommate that are hilarious. Sophie herself is likeable, with witty sarcasm and commentary.
         A great thing about this book is that the main character doesn't grow into her powers unrealistically. In many fantasy novels, the protagonist practically wakes up one day to find (s)he can magically move mountains. That sudden wave of power alienates readers, and it seems so common amongst fantasy series. The evolution of Sophie's talent was much more realistic, and thus more enjoyable and relatable.
         Regarding audience, this series is very teenage-centric and targeted to teenage girls. Sophie's voice is an average schoolgirl voice: she narrates about boys and body insecurity, and makes plenty of pop culture references. Hex Hall reminds the reader constantly that the characters are regular teenagers with the regular host of teenage issues. There is the classic love triangle going on, and much of the book revolves around this plot point. Rachel Hawkins's series is one that adult readers may want to skip.
          Overall the novel isn't a standout. Hex Hall is a light, fast, and funny read akin to eating cotton candy.: reading the novel is fun, but insubstantial and probably bad for your teeth. Nevertheless, simply because Hex Hall was so hilarious and didn't involve copious amounts of brain power, it has a certain appeal.

Comments

  1. Totally awesome review! Love it :)

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  2. Great review. Particularly enjoyed the opening line: "Long story short: the novel feels as though Ms. Hawkins ate all the Harry Potter books and then vomited them all up."

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