The Witch Boy
Molly Knox Ostertag presents a timely tale in a fantasy setting. She previously illustrated Shattered Warrior, but I believe this is her first long-form work both writing and drawing.
The Witch Boy shows us how the teenage Aster doesn’t fit in. In his family of magicians, girls are witches and boys are shapeshifters who fight demons — and you can tell from the title the struggle Aster faces. He wants to do magic, and he doesn’t have the signs of shapeshifting.
He eavesdrops on the girls’ lessons and sulks when he’s caught. His mother tries to explain why they’re so strict, based on a story about Grandmother’s twin brother abusing magic and turning himself into a monster. Even caring parents don’t know how to deal with someone whose existence contradicts their rules, and they take comfort in tradition.
Of course, since this is a fantasy, Aster’s unique nature winds up saving the day when other boys start disappearing, but the more interesting part of the story to me was when he meets (in the “normal” world) a fearless girl named Charlie. She values him for who he is, since she wasn’t raised with his rules, and she sympathizes, since she likes sports, which is also divided by sex.
The world Ostertag creates is full of danger and uncertainty, and her active, fluid figures roam it well. Her work is quick to read but highly involving, welcoming the reader to a new kind of existence and sympathy with Aster’s struggles to be himself. This is the kind of suspenseful fantasy adventure that anyone who’s wondered about how well they fit society’s rules (and isn’t that everyone?) will enjoy.
The Witch Boy is also available in hardcover. A sequel, The Hidden Witch, will be out next fall. I’ll be waiting for more adventures with Aster and Charlie. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)