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Hex: The Apprentice by Fran Hodgkins #BookReview

Robin West is a normal teenager living in a normal town, but when she finds out that Gram Madder makes hexes, her life gets far more complicated than she ever expected. What is a hex? It’s a painting that has the power to make things happen–or to stop things from happening. At least that’s what some people in town believe. Targeted by intolerant neighbors, Robin must protect herself and her loved ones from a force greater than she could have ever imagined.

Hex: The Apprentice by Fran Hodgkins

Title: Hex: The Apprentice | Author: Fran Hodgkins | Publisher: Brattle Publishing Group| Pub Date: 1/11/2019 | Pages: 254 | ISBN13: 9780990587217 | Genre: MG or YA fantasy/horror/paranormal | Language: English | Source: Netgalley | Unstarred Review

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Hex: The Apprentice Review

In order to understand my assessment of Hex: The Apprentice, it’s important to know there’s some misinformation around this book. Kirkus declared, “YA readers should partake of Madder business as eagerly as if under a hex.” 

However, the listing information on Netgalley says Hex is a middle grade book. On Amazon, the work is listed under ‘children’s fantasy and magic adventure’.

As is, YA can be complicated, because there’s what’s sometimes dubbed upper YA and lower YA, referring to books that appeal to older and younger teenagers. There’s been a push to embrace NA (new adult) but books aren’t categorized that way in stores and it’s been slow to gain hold.

Why does all of this matter? How well readers receive Hex may depend, in part, on their age. I read a fair bit of YA and would not consider this to be YA. However, it was hard embracing a MG categorization either, because the protagonist, Robin, is in high school (not middle grade age) and the story primarily revolves around Robin and her grandmother, who is also not middle grade age. MG and YA works usually focus on protagonists the same age as the targeted readership.

The focus of the story is on Robin’s apprenticeship with her grandmother. She’s starting a new school year and, at the same time, learning to take over the family business. (This was another facet of the novel that nudged it away from MG. I also felt the talk about college applications pushed the book away from MG.) As an adult reader, I found the apprenticeship interesting, but suspected some readers would be bored by some of the filler between Robin’s training and the events that shape the climax.

Robin had a conflict with her new art teacher and her best friend, but minimal time was spent focusing on those conflicts and they had limited impact on the story overall. They appeared abruptly and were resolved quickly. The potential tension from these subplots was lost because they didn’t permeate events in a way that truly threatened the protagonist or shaped the story. There was no moment when Robin considered quitting the family business or felt the need to change to address personal issues.

The characters aren’t fleshed out extensively, there were some typos (which may have been corrected in the final version) and there were some logic flaws which may not bother a MG reader, but would be noticeable to YA readers. There are also some real questions about the mother, and it was hard not to see her as a selfish character who wasn’t a good parent, since she’d left her teenage daughter to go work overseas after the death of her husband. Still, it seemed like Robin wasn’t at all bothered by her mother’s absence and that it was more convenient for her. It could have really added some complexity and depth if the mom had been present (particularly because she wasn’t supportive of Grandma’s business) but consumed with a workaholic mentality developed since the death of her husband. There was an opportunity for some real emotional depth about family relationships, grief, and healing. However, the author chose to write a book that’s largely upbeat, where things never get too dour, and where you’re buoyed by confidence from start to finish that everything will work out just fine. And for some people, that’s a reassuring read and it has its place. 

I did think it was unfortunate that the freedom of religion discussion was touched on throughout and we really only heard one side of it clearly presented. 

Another issue is that this is a story where not even the adults involved are prepared to call the authorities when their lives and livelihood are threatened by criminal actions. Teens not automatically trusting adults makes a certain amount of sense. Adults protecting people who commit arson and other acts that jeopardize lives? If you’re thinking about what your MG/young YA reader might pick up from a story like this, it isn’t that they should tell the truth when someone harms them or breaks the law. It isn’t even that you should report it to the police. Of all the things that bothered me about the story, that bothered me the most. If there had been other factors at play, such as issues addressed in works such as The Hate U Give, it could have been possible to understand this, but that was not the case in this work.

It is nice to see a teen who has a good relationship with an adult, and Robin and her grandmother have a great dynamic. I enjoyed Robin and there was enough to keep me reading and I think the author has plenty of potential, but this story could have benefited from a clear focus on serving its audience instead of trying to straddle two genres and not fitting in either category. A thorough developmental edit would have caught some of the continuity and logic issues, and strengthened the subplots and character development to give Robin the storytelling depth she deserved.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads. (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inHorror Book ReviewsKids HorrorKids' Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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