In Review: The Witch Boy

A magical tale that demonstrates that gender does not dictate a place in society.

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

Published by Graphix, October 31, 2017. Simultaneously issued in jacked hardcover and paperback of 224 pages at $24.99 and 12.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

Note: I read an advance copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Aster is reading a book of magic forbidden to him. Surrounding him is a bowl of water, several candles, various leaves and berries, as well as a mortar and pestle. He looks behind him at a noise that reveals itself to be a monstrous dragon shaped shadow. Excellent tease by writer/artist Ostertag. This scene does occur in the book and will keep readers turning pages to find it. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Even magic has rules…Everyone in Aster’s family is born with magic. Boys grow up to be shapeshifters; girls into witches. No exceptions. But Aster can’t seem to get the hang of shapeshifting. Instead, he spends his time spying on the witchery lessons the girls are getting. He seems to have a knack for casting spells and wants to know more, but the only person he can share his growing gift with is Charlie, a girl from the non-magical side of town. Then during a night of shapeshifting practice, one of the boys goes missing. Aster knows he can search for the boy with the witchcraft he’s been secretly learning. Could breaking his family’s most important tradition save the day — or ruin everything?” This summary covers the first quarter of the novel, leaving plenty of surprises for the reader. It introduces the lead, a friend, and the obstacle he has to overcome. There’s much this book that’s not included here, but is teased by the cover. Overall grade: B

The characters: Aster is a teenager who’s drawn to magic, even though he’s not allowed to use it. He finds it undeniably more interesting than shapeshifting, of which he’s not yet capable. He tries to talk with others in his family about using magic, but is shut down by being told it’s not for boys or, worse, his mother tells him a tale of how his grandfather wanted to practice magic and it backfired terribly. Regardless of being warned, he secretly listens in on the girls’ training sessions and takes notes. The only person he has a connection with is a human teen in the suburbs named Charlie. She’s the only one he can speak his heart to and she addresses his concerns honestly. Mother wants the best for Aster, but is worried that she’s turn out like her father. Aster’s father also wants the best for his son, thinking he’s only going through a phase until his shapeshifting kicks in. The boys in his family are pretty mean to him, knowing that he prefers using the abilities of girls than those of boys. There is the ever-present threat of Mikasi, who might be doing something to the boys. This villain has a great reveal in the end and was a good foe for the family. The characters are engaging, real, and a delight. Overall grade: A+

The settings: The family’s home is in a rural area above the suburbs, where the family can live its life without the intrusion of humans. It’s a modern country location that’s pleasant and pleasing. There are woods that surround the house, as well as a magical area that looks unimportant, but is a major contributor to the plot. There’s also a cave in the climax that’s interesting and creepy. Charlie’s house is one of the many two story homes that litter suburbia and looks as though it would fit in anywhere. Overall grade: A

The action: Tension from the novel arises from Aster trying to do what he thinks he’s good at while others try to bar him. The reader constantly wonders if he’ll be caught watching or studying magic. The book takes a dark turn when the boys start to disappear and Aster thinks he knows why. Starting on Page 150 the book heads to the climax which increases in tension and action on every page until completed. Things start small and unassuming and go really big by the end. That’s exactly the type of action I like in a book. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: A perfect conclusion, with a sensational climax, with the final eight pages placing the hero in a comfortable place, teasing that there could be more adventures. Yes, please! Overall grade: A+

The art: Ostertag captures the real world and the fantastic equally well, pulling off the hat track of making both exist side by side. The character design is good, with the family looking modern, yet distant from the human world, with each easily identifiable in every panel. The settings are equally well done; shown from a variety of angles, the house, flora, and fauna are nicely detailed. I really like how the magical elements were illustrated, in the casting of spells and those influenced by them. The threat at the end of the book was very mystical looking, but also absolutely dangerous. There’s no colorist stated in the credits, so I’m assuming this is also Ostertag. The colors used for the family’s home are warm and inviting, making these people and their home a positive environment. Overall grade: A+

The final line: A magical tale that demonstrates that gender does not dictate a place in society. More books like this need to be made! Excellent visuals and a riveting story make this a must read for all ages. I can only hope that Ms. Ostertag will continue this series. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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