Book review: The Hidden Witch, by Molly Knox Ostertag

Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Hidden Witch. Scholastic, 2018. $12.99. 202p. ISBN 978-1-338-25375-7. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

In the sequel to The Witch Boy, Aster joins girls in classes for witchery after his struggle to gain permission for training allocated only to females, but he needs to catch up with the lessons he has missed. His grandmother offers to tutor him but only if he helps cure his great-uncle, Mikasi, who almost destroyed the family after he was taken over by dark magic. Aster’s friend, a distrustful foster child suffering from bullying, is also beset with the dark magic by a new student at school, Ariel, who doesn’t understand that her new protector is actually a harmful shadow form. To save his friends, Aster needs to face the Mikasi’s black magic. Forced to face their fears, characters in this graphic novel make their own decisions—Aster breaks gender stereotypes, his cousin stops shapeshifting in defiance of the family pattern, and Ariel develops faith in others.

Verdict: This second novel is even stronger than the first, continuing with excitement while confronting problems of bullying and personal growth in a warm family setting depicted by rich, bright colors.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag

Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Witch Boy. Graphix/Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 213p. ISBN 978-1-338-08951-6. Ages 8-13. P8Q8

Gender issues are a subtle theme in the author’s debut graphic novel when 13-year-old Aster is kept from witchcraft because males are designated in his family to be only shape-shifters. Forced to hide his growing ability with witchery, he confesses his developing skill in casting spells to Charlie, a black girl with two fathers. She is the catalyst for Aster’s rescue of his cousins taken by a demon and his convincing his family—with the help of his grandmother—that witchery is not just for girls.

Verdict: The deep red-orange colors during the scenes with the demon are outstanding, and the differences in characters’ faces make them all stand out. The book addresses diversity and interracial marriage in a natural way, and the resolution of the gender stereotypes—although sometimes a bit heavy-handed—is well done. The 22 characters, four married couples with 13 children and a matriarch, could have been confusing, but the family tree, complete with illustrations, introducing the book gives assistance to any confusion. This impressive debut provides both character development and world-building, and the themes of acceptance of non-conforming and value of family relationships will be inviting to many readers. Hopefully Ostertag will provide a sequel.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag

Shinn, Sharon. Shattered Warrior. Il. By Molly Knox Ostertag. First Second, 2017. $17.99. 246p. ISBN 978-1-62672-089-3. Ages 12-15. P8Q9

In her first graphic novel, Shinn writes about a formerly privileged 18-year-old, Colleen Cavenaugh, who lost almost everything ten years earlier when the alien Derichets took over her planet. She lives in her almost destroyed mansion on her former great estate and works at a mindless job in a factory, sorting minerals before she gets involved in a revolution with members of the mining underclass. The danger of her rebellion increases when she is reunited with her niece as her relationship with another guerilla develops into an affair. Shinn has built a magnificent world peopled with diverse ethnic groups who live under occupation and face violence and possible death from trying to take back their independence.

Verdict: Complex characterization is accompanied by a history of the planet and exciting suspense along with an in-depth perspective of class struggles and gender differences. The vividly colored artwork is equally strong, frequently carrying the plot and expressing the defiance of the multi-faceted characters.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.