Southern Ghostbusters, Izzy Brannick-Style: A Review of Rachel Hawkins' School Spirits

Monday, March 25, 2013

This past Friday I received the best birthday gift from NetGalley possible: a copy of Rachel Hawkins' SCHOOL SPIRITS, a book I pre-ordered on Amazon months ago. Usually the books available from NetGalley are from debut authors or writers who aren't well-known yet, so I was surprised (and delighted) to find a highly anticipated book from a NYT-bestselling author like Hawkins there.  

SCHOOL SPIRITS is a fast, fun spin-off for any fans of the HEX HALL series or Rachel Hawkins herself. The story follows Izzy Brannick, the younger cousin of Sophie Mercer, the protagonist of Hawkins' HEX HALL series. Sophie doesn't make an appearance, but Izzy and the other new characters we meet are compelling enough that I wasn't longing to be back at Hex Hall with Sophie, Archer, and Jenna. 

Without giving too much away, the basic plot of the novel is that Izzy is forced to attend a regular high school in Mississippi after a ghost attacks one of the teachers. Izzy is one of the last of the Brannicks, a family of female warriors who hunt Prodigium (supernatural creatures), and she is charged with going undercover at the school, playing the role of a regular high school sophomore, in order to find the ghost and eliminate it. Izzy has never spent much time around regular human teenagers, so of course her interactions with them as she learns how to navigate the delicate social sphere of an American high school are entertaining and often hilarious. Mary Evans High is not a school out of MEAN GIRLS, CLUELESS, or GLEE, though. The characters are more than just cliquish stereotypes pulled from Hollywood's idea of high school. MEHS seemed much more authentic (at least to the American South), and even though I've been out of high school for...a few years now, as a former high school teacher and Southern student, I could identify with the small town world Hawkins builds and her characterization of high school life. At the same time, people from OUTSIDE the South shouldn't read that description and think this is a book full of y'alls, cowboy boots, shotguns, pick-up trucks, and other Southern stereotypes. The South has those things, obviously, but most books and movies set in the South show a version of it I don't even recognize. Hawkins' South is much closer to the real thing, I think.

The best part of the book is Izzy herself, though. Her voice is witty and endearing. She's immensely likable and very funny, like Sophie, but has a personality and voice all her own. Although I loved the characters Dex and Romy, too, my favorite secondary character was probably Torin, who really comes alive here. In SPELL BOUND, Torin had a minor role but seemed more of a decorative piece, whereas here his personality is really well-developed and Hawkins uses him well to propel the story forward.

My only real issue with the novel is that it appears to be a stand-alone, yet some of the problems are unresolved or open-ended in a way that left it open to sequels. I'd love to read more of Izzy's story, so I hope Hawkins considers writing at least one sequel, if not giving Izzy a trilogy of her own.


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