title: the hidden witch
writer: molly ostertag
artist: molly ostertag
genre: middle grade, fantasy, coming of age
content warnings: mentions of bullying, death
my rating: highly recommended
the hidden witch is the sequel to molly ostertag’s 2017 graphic novel the witch boy. i absolutely adored the witch boy and had high expectations for the hidden witch, and i was not disappointed.
our main characters are aster and charlie. aster is a witch from a family of witches and shape shifters. the witch boy focused on him starting to break out from the gendered roles ruling that boys are shifters and girls are witches and that’s that. he met and befriended charlie, a human and magic-less girl who lives in the same town. in the hidden witch charlie took a bigger role, where a lot of the story focused on her friendship with a new girl in her school, while aster started his studies as a witch.
the hidden witch is, in its core, about friendship and acceptance and learning to love yourself – meaning it’s exactly the kind of graphic novel i want to read. it’s about characters who don’t really fit into the mould that’s been set for them, but instead of changing themselves they change the world around them, for the better.
where the witch boy focused on aster’s struggles of not being able to (or wanting to) be a shifter like all boys and men in his family, and instead being a witch like the girls – and therefore heavily reading as a metaphor for the trans or enby experience – the hidden witch is more about the effects growing up alone and bullied can have on someone. we get to see someone else – who also grew up witch powers they didn’t really understand, with no one around to help them and love them for who they are, just like aster did – but unlike aster they ended up taking a darker turn, in some ways without even realising they did. it was interesting to see a different side to the same coin, and to think about how different these graphic novels could’ve been if it was aster who started losing himself in his magic.
this duology (but i really hope we get even more) is such an important addition to middle grade stories. both aster and charlie are black children, with aster being biracial. it let’s them play and be children and have fun, and doesn’t force any kind of black struggle narrative that so often seems to be a requirement for white people to find a story about black people valuable. of course, i can’t really speak for the quality of the racial representation as i’m not black. from an outside perspective it looks good, but coming from me that just means there are no really blatant problems that i caught.
it also deals with gender and sexuality in a really natural way, but shows that when someone goes against ”the norm” everyone won’t change and accept that instantly. towards the beginning of the hidden witch we see one of aster’s aunts being very short with him and clearly shows that she still doesn’t want to teach him magic, even though he is now allowed to join in on the lessons, for example. later, another example is when aster’s grandmother uses she/her pronouns for a witch they don’t know who it is yet and aster corrects her by saying them, because they don’t know the gender of the witch in question but the grandmother assumed they were a woman.
i love the art and how the hidden witch is coloured so much. even just a thing like how the space around the panels is white during the day and black during the night really helps set the mood for the scene. another small thing that i just adore is the ”sound effects” ostertag uses sometimes. i use quotation marks because the effects in question is that in the way we’re used to it saying ”wham!” and ”bam!” when something happens, ostertag sometimes just writes that action. aster rolled his eyes, and it said ”roll” over him. he turned around, and it said ”turn”. someone got pushed over, and instead of a ”smack!” as the character hit the floor we got a ”shove”. i don’t know what it is about it, but every time an artist uses this technique it makes my day.
so yes, as you can probably tell, i loved this graphic novel a lot. it’s easy to read, with clear and consistent storytelling, art that often speaks for itself, and it’s not very text heavy. i’d say you can jump into this one without having read the witch boy first, but i’d still recommend you read it first if only because i love it too. regardless, i highly recommend you pick this one up.
this is my second review for #mythothon. i read it for the athena prompt – read a book that’s not the first in the series. initially i was going to listen to the audiobook of ruin of stars, but my copy of the hidden witch finally arrived and i just couldn’t wait.