The Hidden Witch
Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy was a wonderfully fresh take on the idea of being raised by a family of magic users. Aster learned to be a witch even though boys were supposed to be shape-shifters, and that breaking of gender-determined roles made the story modern and relatable.
I liked the sequel, The Hidden Witch, even better. Now that the background and characters have been established, Ostertag has more space for story, and this one touches on some deep messages about the struggles of friendship and family.
Aster’s friend Charlie is reaching out to Ariel, a new transfer student who starts as a grumpy loner. Charlie’s outgoing, while Ariel is an artist, but their burgeoning friendship hits a snag when an action means more to one than the other person. Meanwhile, Aster is trying to catch up on the witchcraft lessons he missed. His grandmother offers to tutor him in return for his help with a special reclamation project, following events from the first book.
Ostertag does a fabulous job with her characters. The large, cartoony eyes are widely expressive and vaguely cat-like, adding a slightly foreign touch that suits the fantasy story. Aster’s androgynous look suits his personality and allows any reader to identify with him. Particularly when he talks about how much better it feels when you’re following the right path for you.
We learn what happens when a witch doesn’t have proper training, when magic is done with hate and becomes corrupted into a curse. Even when someone is doing terrible things, Ostertag shows us why they may have made those choices, making them understandable and richer characters. We also learn about the struggle to heal, to care about those who made some wrong decisions, and to help bring them to a better place.
That’s a terrific message and why this story stuck with me. We can’t help meanness done to us, or the fear of being alone, and the way that history twists us, but we can choose to help others and trust friends and hope that we find our right place in time. (The publisher provided a review copy.)