In Aster’s community, all the girls are raised to be witches and the boys are taught to be shapeshifters. The lines are not to be crossed. EVER. It happened once in the past, and resulted in an evil that still haunts the family. Unfortunately for Aster, he’s fascinated by witchery and his talents seem to go that way. But it’s forbidden! Much like associating with the outside world, which Aster does as well. He meets and befriends Charlie, a non-magical and non-conforming girl, who gives Aster a safe place to practice his magic. When an old evil returns and threatens the other boys Aster knows that he can help…as a witch. And to finally be himself.

Molly Ostertag’s first solo graphic novel is a solid debut. Ostertag has been honing her artistic style on Strong Female Protagonist for the last few years and her character design has developed particularly well. Using just a few lines in the face she’s really able to show a character’s feelings and emotions. When Aster is afraid of what he’s learning, his face shows the gentle quiver of the lips and eyebrows, clearly indicating that fear we can all recognize. Unfortunately in this review copy, the colors aren’t finished and it’s hard to tell if some of the backgrounds are completed. But, based upon her work with Strong Female Protagonist, I have no doubt that the colors are solid.

There are a couple of things that I thought could have been improved in the writing for clarity sake. The most significant place is in the discussion of gender norms and values which stems from one major area: world building. It’s not clear if the world we’re seeing is ours or a slightly different one. By default most readers are going to interpret this as our world, with added magic. When we see the modern world depicted with Charlie, there’s no information that presents itself that we’re in a different universe. As such, when Charlie talks about playing sports and that the things she likes that have been viewed as “for boys” rather than girls, the readers may be confused since in our world girls do play sports. So what commentary is Ostertag making? Is it that Charlie is a gender non-conforming character, or perhaps transgender or agender? And why is this important? Because it challenges us on how to view Aster. It doesn’t change Aster’s story so much, but how we interpret it. If Aster is transgender or agender, then their struggles are now just that magic is something only women can do but not how their society views gender itself. If Aster is breaking rules set for genders then the story is about the social commentary of breaking and challenging rules to show they shouldn’t be defined by gender. All of this has led a lot of reviewers to question how to interpret the story. Ostertag does comment in an interview with Publishers Weekly, saying that’s its about showing boys wanting to do feminine things without being stigmatized. It’s not solely about being transgender, but defying gender norms.

There is LGBTQ content in this book that is more clearly defined. The secondary character, Charlie, mentions her two dads. And that’s it. They don’t play a part in the story, we don’t ever see them or hear them, but it gives you an idea to who Charlie is. And I freaking love it. It’s not made to be a big deal, it’s not ever pointed out other than she has two dads that worry about her and love her.

People who like Raina Telgemeier’s work will love this, and honestly this book should be recommended reading across the board as a positive portrayal of gender non-conforming people. More importantly though is the message that bad things can happen when you try to stop it, because people will ultimately be better off being true to themselves.

The Witch Boy
by Molly Ostertag
ISBN: 9781338089516
Graphix, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Dani Shuping

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Dani Shuping is currently a wandering librarian looking for a home. She has been involved in libraries for over nine years and and has had an interest in graphic novels since before that time. Dani began the graphic novel collection at Mercer, works with an English professor from time to time on a class on graphic novels, and just recently started a graphic novel book discussion group. She love attendings comic conventions, especially the smaller ones when they can, and one day may just have a comic of their own. Dani can be found at ashuping.net and goes by the user name ashuping where ever they can, such as on Twitter: @ashuping.

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