Review: School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins


May 17, 2013 by Heidi

School Spirits by Rachel HawkinsTitle: School Spirits [Goodreads]
Author: Rachel Hawkins [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First in a new spin-off series.
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal
Published: May 14th, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Spoilers!:  While this review is SPOILER FREE, the book itself contains some spoilers for Hawkins’ Hex Hall series.  You don’t need to read that series to enjoy this one, but be mindful that if you read School Spirits first you’ll know where Hex Hall is going.

Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?

Oh friends, I’m not even sure I realized there was this gaping Rachel Hawkins book-sized hole in my heart until I picked up School Spirits and suddenly found it filled to the brim with wit, humor, fun, and of course–kissing.  Rachel Hawkins holds some sort of mystical power that turns me into a giggling little girl with her ability to write kissing scenes, I swear.  I’ve grown up and started reading real adult romance and still?  Give me a Rachel Hawkins kissing scene to fantasize about any day.  Ahem.  Anyway…onto the book!

For those readers who have familiarized themselves with the world of Prodigium through Sophie’s eyes in the Hex Hall series, things are about to get turned upside down when we enter the head of her younger cousin, Isolde (Izzy) Brannick, Prodigium-killer by blood.  I’ll lay it right out there for you folks: School Spirits is much more Supernatural than Buffy.  In Izzy’s world, generations of Brannick women have fought to keep the world safe from the things that go bump in the night, and they certainly don’t make friendly with them on any score.  Only now that their numbers are dwindling and relations are changing are they beginning to change the way things are done.  Of course, change would be easier if the 3-woman Brannick family weren’t facing the upheaval of becoming two.  Izzy’s older and capable sister, Finley, has disappeared leaving Izzy and her mom searching fruitlessly after her while balancing their usual work load.  As Izzy nears the age of 16 she longs for her mother’s trust and faith that she can work on her own and shouldn’t be babied, but she also longs for a bit of normalcy in her teen life as well–something Brannick women can’t afford.

Enter Mary Evans High.  Rachel Hawkins manages to throw us into the world of mundane high school and remind us not of the angst, but of the friendships and fun (okay, well, there’s a little bit of angst, but the humorous variety).  For the first time Izzy begins to make connections–connections she tells herself are all for the job (stopping a particularly pesky haunting), but knows fill a deeper need for friends.

I’m always wary when an author breaks out to begin a new series–will I enjoy her new characters as much?  Particularly when Sophie’s humor was such a huge part of why I loved Hex Hall to begin with?  Luckily, Hawkins struck the perfect cord, finding a balance between making Izzy a completely different person, and giving us the same solid flare through the friendships Izzy forms with Romy and Dex.  The humor Izzy brought to the book wasn’t through her quippy one-liners, but through the reality that the poor girl knows nothing about how to be an American teenager, and is learning the ropes through some of the most ridiculous sources possible.

While the ending did wrap up a bit cheesily for me, I’m not too fussed because I’m looking forward to all of the TENSION (and kissing–there’s totally going to be more kissing) in the next installment (please oh please let there be a next installment!  You can’t just leave us here, Disney-Hyperion, I am not amused!).  For me, the greatest aspect of Hawkins’ School Spirits is that it was romping good fun while still managing to be completely unpredictable.  Throughout my reading I had so many theories running through my head and sure, some of them touched on the truth, but nothing was 100% accurate.  I love not knowing precisely where a story will take me.  Rachel Hawkins acknowledges the gross and weird sides of paranormal romance in YA, like 400 year old dudes with teenagers or zombies or ghosts as love interests.  She’s completely unapologetic about the fact that she’s leading us down these roads, while at the same time assuring us that it’s not quite the road you might have thought you were getting on to begin with.  Oh!  And there’s not really a love triangle in this one…we’re managing whole new weird romance angles, including the much-neglected bad date and a love interest that is really unlike any other I can bring to mind (though I’m not writing off the possibility of love triangles in the future, haters be warned).

Basically, if you haven’t noticed, Rachel Hawkins’ books are just plain fun.  School Spirits is another you can easily consume in one sitting, or obsess over finishing if you have to set it down.  They may not be particularly scary or deep, but they’re more of both than you’d expect, and certainly more than fluff.  The world of Prodigium she has created is both familiar and new, even to those of us who have experienced it before in Hex Hall.  While I do think this series has the potential to attract a different reader-set from her prior series, I also think much of the world building assumes a knowledge from previous books.  So while it’s not necessary to read Hex Hall first, I will encourage you to do so–I’m fairly certain you won’t regret it.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Wild horses couldn’t tear me away from my love of Rachel Hawkins.  Moar please.  Rebel Belle, 2014, comin’ at ya.

Recommended for:  Fans of Supernatural and kissing.  So…that’s everyone, right?

Get a second opinion:
The Book Rat – “So if you’re in a rut and in need of a funk-breaker, or just love a good damn fun book, School Spirits might be just the one to pick up.”
The Midnight Garden – “Written with the author’s signature bouncy prose and effervescent humor, School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins is presented with more of a traditional mystery framework than the Hex Hall series, which really helps with driving the story forward and keeping the plotting clean.”
Realm of Fiction – “Still, despite the less-than-satisfying final chapters, Hawkins leaves enough of an impression with her new book to stir up some interest for more.”

I’ve also reviewed:
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Series Review)


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  1. I really do hope there is a sequel eventually! I agree that the ending was a little cheesy, but I definitely need to know more about Izzy’s sister. And you’re right, Hawkins’ books are just good fun, if nothing more. Lovely review, Heidi!

  2. Oh how I’ve missed this world!! I need to get my hands on this one ASAP, because you’re so right! Her books are just plain fun!! And this sounds absolutely fantastic :)

  3. Kristin A. says:

    I haven’t finished the Hex Hall series but I’m looking forward to this one nonetheless. Great review. I can tell this will be a fun read once I get around to reading it!

    Kristin@Blood,Sweat and Books

  4. For some reason – a rather rude reason, to be honest – I’m always surprised when readers enjoy Hawkins’s work. I didn’t have the best experience with her debut, Hex Hall, and haven’t bothered to pick up another book of hers since. BUT, as a companion series, this one sounds much better. So maybe I’ll give it a try? Hmm…we’ll see. Still, I’m thrilled you enjoyed this so much. Great review, Heidi! :)

  5. Charlotte says:

    Oh gosh I’m looking forward to this one lots and lots!

  6. […] Heidi @ Bunbury in the Stacks: “For me, the greatest aspect of Hawkins’ School Spirits is that it was romping good fun whil… […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.