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School Spirits (Hex Hall Novel, A) Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Since her older sister went missing nearly a year ago, 15-year-old Izzy and her mother are all that remain of the family. Endowed with extra strength and supernatural powers, the Brannicks have been ridding the world of evil creatures for thousands of years. Without her sister by her side, it's a lonely life for Izzy, who is still trying to prove to her mother that she is ready to handle the family business on her own. After a nearly disastrous run-in with a vampire, her mother decides to give her something easier to work on. They move to Mississippi, and the teen enrolls in the local high school where a rogue ghost has attempted to kill one of the teachers. Dealing with the ghost should be a simple task, but attending high school for the first time is a scary prospect for the homeschooled teen. She joins the school-sanctioned Paranormal Management Society and becomes friends with its members. She begins to fall in love with one of them and discovers that another member may be the reason she can't get the ghost under control. Always warned by her mother to go in, do the job, and get out, Izzy realizes that the relationships she's formed may be placing people's lives in jeopardy. It's impossible not to compare this book to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it blends equal parts humor, drama, and romance-just like the popular TV series. Girls will eat this one up.-Cary Frostick, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this Hex Hall spin-off, Hawkins takes us to Ideal, Mississippi, where 15-year-old Izzy Brannick and her mother have fled to escape Izzy’s sister’s disappearance and Izzy’s own botched attempt to slay a vampire. But Ideal is hardly the ideal small town. Instead, the high school where Izzy will soon enroll has endured a series of progressively escalating hauntings. Perhaps this is Izzy’s chance to restore her reputation by solving a tragic, yet harmless, ghost visitation gone awry. Or perhaps it’s just the opportunity she hasn’t even known she desired: to finally have a best friend and even a boyfriend, who, by the way, might just be a Prodigium, a warlock of sorts. In true Hawkins fashion, School Spirits combines romance, intrigue, and the paranormal with humor and high-school drama to produce a light read that bodes well for another Hawkins series, this time featuring the Brannicks. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This spinoff of the New York Times best-selling Hex Hall series should be similarly well received. Grades 7-10. --Frances Bradburn
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Izzy attends school for the first time in her life and attempts to socially interact like a normal teenager. She makes friends with a group of teens who have a club which investigates paranormal activity, but she is not sure who she can trust. She uses her wits and strength to prove herself and try to save everyone from the angry ghost of a teen who died a hundred years earlier.
The writing style is witty and fun. The plot contains a mixture of suspense and comedy. After the first scene there is not a lot of heart-pounding action, but it all works. Izzy is a likeable protagonist, and the other characters, such as Dex and Romy, are quirky and distinctive. The romance was just beginning, but there is room for growth in the next installment.
Newcomer Isolde "Izzy" Brannick's attempts to attend high school for the first time, while jointly battling a series of haunting and that quivery feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she sees a certain boy, are hilarious, touching and a joy to read.
I've always had a special place in my heart for the Hex Hall series. I first started reading the series when I was living in London for graduate school, and feeling homesick for the States.
So when I heard that Hawkins was writing a spin-off series, I went to Amazon and pre-ordered the book, the very second the book's page went up.
(Seriously, you guys. I clicked pre-order so fast, I almost expected my mouse to be smoking.)
Even though the book doesn't officially come out until May 14th, Disney-Hyperion has also been kind enough to send me an ARC to review and share with all of you, to increase the excitement and get the word out there!
As one of the last members in a long line of Brannick women, fifteen-year-old Isolde "Izzy" Brannick's life goals have always been clear: tracking down and eliminating monsters, wherever and whenever necessary.
However, after her older sister Finley disappears during a job, Izzy's mom decides that the two of them need to take a breather from their nomadic lifestyle. She packs Izzy up and moves her to Ideal, Mississippi to start something far scarier than the things that go bump in the night: high school.
But as Izzy and her mom settle down in Ideal, they realize that it's not so easy to get away from their supernatural destinies. There have been a series of haunting at the local high school, and Izzy wants to get to the bottom of it.
As she juggles with learning how to do normal teenage things - Clothes! Boys! Sleepovers! Trashy TV shows! - and her natural Brannick instincts, Izzy will learn that she's capable of more than she could have ever anticipated.
Things that worked:
* The characterizations
Hawkins does a good job of creating an Izzy which jointly builds upon the feisty character that we first met in Spellbound, while also giving her personality traits and quirks which show us how she's matured since our last meeting with her.
I especially liked the idea that while Izzy is someone who can take out vampires in the blink of an eye - as long as their sparkles don't get in the way - she also feels extremely insecure about her ability to understand boys and anything about school.
Like Sophie, Hawkins shows us through Izzy, that even the most confident of people often have self-doubts.
The secondary cast of characters in School Spirits was wonderful, as well. They're quirky, funny and make wonderful side-kicks to Izzy.
* The themes
There are several themes incorporated throughout the course of book which will definitely be appreciated by some of the older readers - e.g. the idea that sometimes, family isn't necessarily about your blood relatives, but more about the people who understand you.
Hawkins also emphasizes the idea that sometimes, love can be the strongest magic of all. I think that this is both a wonderful lesson for younger readers to take away, but hey - it also sets up potential ideas for the sequels.
* The (continued) world-building.
Hawkins does an excellent job of incorporating details both from the Hex Hall series for fans, but has also created a world that is separate from the specific mythos of the Hex Hall world.
I feel like she's set up a lot of questions - e.g. the idea that there is more than the one type of magic that Prodigium and demons are able to do - that will have readers wondering what else they don't know about the world that Sophie and the Brannicks live in.
* The love interest(s)
Hawkins has a gift for writing male love interests who break the stereotypical mode of YA love interests. I loved the fact that Dexter wasn't a jock or a bad boy who needed a good girl to change his heart. Instead, he's strictly a smart, intelligent guy with an excellent sense of humor, who just happens to be interested in Izzy.
On the same note, I also really liked the fact that Dex made the effort to get to know Izzy as a friend first, before hinting at a possible romance. The fact that they moved slowly, is an interesting change from the standard YA romance. I think that it's not only more realistic to real life; it also gives readers more to come back for in later books.
* The bigger picture
Like her Hex Hall series, Hawkins is good at incorporating subtle details which hint at a bigger picture, and a future story ARC. I was intrigued by the mentions of Finley's disappearance, Torin's continued hints that Izzy will be his salvation, and even the mention of changes in the world of the Prodigium.
Ultimately, I believe that Hawkins did an excellent job of both having a stand-alone mission, while also setting the ground work for future books. I can see readers feeling satisfied with this book, but definitely curious enough to come back for more.
As always, Hawkins writes with a lot of affection and humor. The jokes, quips and witty lines that she sprinkles throughout the book keeps the plot moving along at a brisk and enjoyable pace, while also significantly increasing the impact of the darker and more serious moments in the book.
I especially enjoyed the utter confusion that Izzy felt when she stepped into the hallway of her high school for the first time. While not all of us have to transition from a life of fighting supernatural creatures into high school suburbia, I think we can all relate to the sheer confusion of wanting to fit in, have the right clothes, and make the right friends.
* The ending
I can generally sniff out endings from a mile away, but Hawkins genuinely surprised me with the book's multiple endings.
I felt that the ending was both well-done in terms of plotting and characterization, and also kept in line with the book's overarching idea that love is one of the more powerful forms of magic out there and family is not necessarily just about blood. I really like the "twist" at the end of the book, and I feel like it's a very significant (and good) change from anything we would have expected in the Hex Hall series.
* The cover
Ultimately, this is a minute point in the world of book reviews, but I would really like to give a big shot-out to Disney-Hyperion's promotional department for retaining the same look of the Hex Hall books for the new series.
While readers do understand that there are reasons for why a publishing house may change cover designs throughout the course of a series, (or for a spin-off in this case), it does still pain us, because a lot of us buy these books, and want our books to match.
(Yes, we're a little fussy like that - sorry!)
So I absolutely love the fact that when School Spirits comes out, it'll be able to go up right next to my Hex Hall books, and anyone else who looks at my books will immediately know that the books are from the same world.
And from a strictly esthetic standpoint: the cover is gorgeous. It not only showcases the plot of the book very well, it's also very different from a lot of the covers out there. I showed my ARC to a slightly older reader, and she said admiringly: "Well, that's lovely and unusual! It doesn't feature kissing or hot boys!"
(Not that there's anything wrong with kissing or hot boys!)
Things to consider:
I've seen some reviews say that they were disappointed by School Spirits, because it didn't incorporate more of the characters and world from Hex Hall.
I would urge Hex Hall fans that may be inclined to think the same way, to not view this as a direct continuation of Sophie and Archer's adventures. Instead, I would say that they should view School Spirits as a wonderful expansion into the world of the Prodigium and the supernatural.
Hawkins has included enough old details from both the Hex Hall series and new details - e.g. hedge witches - which make me realize, if anything, there are more secrets waiting to be uncovered about the world that Sophie and the Brannicks live in.
And quite frankly, I can't wait!
School Spirits is a story with many layers. On the surface, it's a book about a girl and her stake. (Or salt container, if she's feeling feisty.)
But dig a little deeper and you'll also find a funny, insightful book about the importance of family, love and how the people that you thought wouldn't matter, are the people you want with you the most in the end. I highly recommend this book to fans of the Hex Hall series, but also to fans of urban fantasy books in general.
Though School Spirits is marketed as a Hex Hall Spin off, one is not required to complete the trilogy to enjoy the spirited content. On the contrary, the plot is such that from the very first chapter, to the last page, readers will find themselves either enthralled or on the edge of their seats, dying to know what happens next. After Izy Brannick's big sister Finn disappears on a routine evil coven elimination case, her mom decides that a break is needed for the family: particularly for izzy since she almost got drained by a vamp on her first solo mission. . As the family regroups, Mama Brannick decides to put Izzy on a run of the mill ghost case, in hopes that Izzy can regain her confidence as a hunter, while she , in the meantime, gathers leads on Fin's whereabouts. Although the premise sounds straight forward at first, I can assure you that there is way more to the story. It's the epitome of cuteness combined with elements of book treasure. I mean, there is something in there for everyone, romance junkies and creepy tale lovers alike. Izzy spends time in a cemetery; she spends time in a cemetery! Yes, that made me excited...Oh, and did I mention that there's plenty of funny tossed in?
For one thing, Izzy's always been home schooled. Instead of the usual curriculum focusing on academic pursuits, Izzy's training primarily included a slue of fighting and weaponry. Teen interaction was never covered. In addition to watching Izzy become a better hunter, the reader also gets to see Izzy learn to make friends and to come to terms with their easy acceptance of her, as she struggles to understand the ins and outs of being a normal fifteen year old girl. Trust me, Izzy will tell you that expertise with throwing stars and cross-bows doesn't guarantee that you'll be good at things like painting your toenails, for instance. Her amazement with soaps and magazines was hilarious, especially the soaps because they were watched with an evil warlock who has been trapped in a mirror for centuries. Loved the commentary. Who knew that being over 400 years old wouldn't diminish the fascination with human drama? I can't wait to see more of Izzy/Torran interactions. Is it wrong that I am dying for the Torran proficy to come to fruition? I can imagine the chaos!
Aside from the humor, the characters were just perfect. Romie was so much fun and so caring, and her bumbling attempts at ghost hunting were endearing. She and Anderson complemented one another very well, and I want more of them if possible. Still, Dex was my favorite. Izzy really got a winner as far as love interests go. His love for his Nana was adorable, and the flirting with Izzy was sweet in its old world style. I won't spoil the story but let's just say that they don't have an easy road ahead of them. I wonder how Hawkins will play their cards. SO many questions!
Overall, School Spirits, with its ghosties and pep rallies, was cute, fun, and a wonderfully sassy addition to the young adult genre. Despite its open ended conclusion, it is a strong beginning to what is sure to be a fabulous series. Come on, who doesn't love Slamming lockers, graveyards, and witchcraft related mayhem? Can't wait for more spooky fun!