See this review on Goodreads.
For at least three years I’ve been trying to find a Young Adult book that’s
1. A fun adventure outside of the real world that
2. was actually funny, and
3. didn’t center around endless harping on all the tropes of teen angst (most especially that one SUPER CUTE BOY who doesn’t know I exist!).
I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. Then I did something crazy. I (inadvertently) asked a librarian for help.
She gave me a list of titles to check out that included Hex Hall. And I fell into the pages and didn’t come out until I hit the end. This book is engaging, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and full of characters that hover around the teen cliches while managing to uniquely transcend them.
Hex Hall is the story of Sophie Mercer, a teen witch living in the mortal world, who casts a love spell that goes hilariously wrong. For her crime of careless magic use, she’s sentenced to what is essentially magical-creature juvie until she turns 18.
This is where things could have gone yawntastically wrong for this book. She’s a witch who just found out she’s a witch, sent to a weird boarding school full of other weird magical things, with a stern-but-kind headmaster and a teacher who hates her for old family drama. It so could have turned into a one-to-one obvious ripoff of Harry Potter with the names changed to protect the uninspired (I’m looking at you, Percy Jackson.).
But it didn’t. It took the “magical boarding school” thing and made it feel fresh enough to keep my interest focused and my eyes not rolling. Told through Sophie’s first-person POV, the story has an edge of teen snark that is amusing and not grating. I enjoyed spending time with her as she fumbled through her first year at Hecate Hall.
(Sidebar: I’m not sure how “Hecate” is pronounced, but through the whole book I was reading it like the Mexican beer, Tecate.)
Along the way Sophie tangles with the inevitable hot bitchy mean girls and, of course, falls for the SUPER CUTE BOY. But there was enough other stuff going on to make these things feel like threads of the greater tapestry rather than just a whole stupid book about thread.
This greater tapestry is primarily a murder mystery. Someone is knocking off Hecate students by puncturing their necks and sucking their blood. Could it be Sophie’s vampire roommate? COULD IT? If you’ve never heard of a red herring before, then YES, MAYBE! Fortunately, there are enough reasonable suspects roaming the wonky halls of Hecate to keep the mystery sparking with intrigue. I admit, I had some suspicions about whodunit, and they were all sort of in the ballpark without being completely right. Which is, I think, exactly what you want in a mystery.
The ending was satisfying while still leaving enough unanswered questions to keep me on board for the sequels. I really enjoyed this world and I look forward to more adventures here.