Graphic Novel Review: “The Witch Boy” by Molly Knox Ostertag

Everyone in Aster’s family can do magic. The only thing keeping this from being really awesome is that boys are allowed to become only shapeshifters and girls are allowed to become only witches – and Aster wants to be a witch. He’s never gotten the hang of shapeshifting, instead spending most of his time spying outside of the girls’ lectures on witchcraft and then getting in big trouble for trying out spells on his own. Aster knows his desires are wrong – one of his male ancestors dabbled in witchcraft before disappearing forever – but he also longs to follow his heart.

Witch Boy is a gripping fantasy straight from the get-go – I love Ostertag’s illustration style and the cast of characters she’s created. The imposition of the strict division between genders feels somewhat unmotivated in the text – you would think people so in touch with nature would be a bit more open-minded – but we all have family traditions we don’t agree with or fully understand, and Ostertag’s writing is faithful to the confusing and painful experience of navigating radical disagreement with people you love. Plus, if we replace “magic” with just about anything else mass culture currently believes about gender, Aster’s family’s entrenched bias starts to look a lot more understandable.

Witch Boy is smart and fun, making this graphic novel a pleasure to read. When it was over, I found myself longing for more of Aster’s adventures – not because the story ends on a cliffhanger (it doesn’t), but because Ostertag has created such a rich and fascinating world. I can’t wait to recommend this one to all the young graphic novel lovers in my life!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.