Jacob Proffitt's Reviews > Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
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's review
Mar 26, 2012

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bookshelves: urban-fantasy, young-adult
Read on March 26, 2012

I confess that I was skeptical of this book up front—yet another Young Adult girl-with-an-attitude in a school for the magical/mysterious. But I read the sample from Amazon and was intrigued enough to borrow the book from a friend. I'm glad I did.

First off, the school isn't for the gifted. The school is for those with supernatural abilities who have brought the attention of humans onto the magical community. Yes, it's a magical juvie. So the people attending the school (and many of the teachers/staff) are there as punishment. The classes aren't so much to teach as they are to occupy. And the cliques that arise from the race/ability dynamics are about what you'd expect in such a situation—heavily stratified and based as much on mutual protection as on friendship.

Sophie is sarcastic, but there's real wit in her mutterings and she's endearingly unsure of herself. She can do magic, but she also knows it often doesn’t work out quite as she imagined. She's capable and she is willing to act when given the opportunity but she is also insecure in her magical abilities and legitimately uncertain that what she does will work out right. Her struggle to understand who and what she is (and what she's capable of) is engaging and draws our sympathy without being manipulative about it.

But my favorite aspect of the novel is how the story often follows an unexpected trajectory. I can't say I was actually surprised by events (Rachel Hawkins does a good job of justifying the actions taken by her characters so we can often see things coming that Sophie legitimately doesn’t expect), but I was surprised that the author was willing to take the story in the directions she sometimes did. I can't get too specific without ruinous spoilers, so suffice it to say that some of those twists walk an original path for the genre (this is a good thing). These developments are daring but not in the usual way that is meant—i.e. they aren’t edgy, issue-of-the-week, or degrading, they’re just unusual.

I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next in the series. It's hard to write real wit—most authors settle for sarcasm and hope the setting carries the rest. Rachel Hawkins has the ability to get to that extra depth where wit actually happens. I can’t wait to see if she can keep it up for the next novel.
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