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THE OKAY WITCH by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch was a light, easy, enjoyable read. The main character is 13-year-old Moth Hush. She and her mom live in Founder’s Bluff, Massachussetts. Moth has always felt out of place among her peers, she doesn’t have any friends and a lot of the other kids bully her on a regular basis. Early in the story Moth discovers she (and her mother) are actually witches. Her mother has put magic out of her life and tells Moth she must do the same.  Moth feels torn between her excitement at discovering an ability she thinks explains why she’s always felt ‘different’ (and might also serve as a way for her to change her social situation) and her mother’s vehement anti-magic stance. Because her mother does not explain the reasons for her position, Moth–of course–begins to investigate on her own. She discovers a history of witch hunting and persecution in their town’s past, conflict between her family and the Mayor’s family going back centuries. Along the way Moth meets a new student with whom she becomes friends (her first friend!) and a hilarious talking cat who turns out to be a reincarnation of their dear deceased family benefactor.

This was a 3.5/5 star read for me. The plot is predictable but well done.

The Great Stuff:

The first three-quarters of the story are engaging and fun, wrapping the magical realism elements into the plot and characters in an effective and believable way. The way in which Moth begins to identify and incorporate the myriad aspects of who she is into a somewhat cohesive idea of the young woman she is becoming feel genuine and relatable. Navigating the confusion in assembling ALL the parts of who we are is a challenging (and sometimes daunting) journey that begins in the middle and high school years. Moth’s character portrays this struggle in a genuine and relatable way for middle grade readers who are beginning that arduous process themselves.

The illustrations in this graphic novel are superb. Steinkellner has made a very strong entrance into the genre. Her work has the realism and heart of Raina Telgemeier mixed with the bold lines of Dan Santat and the expressiveness of Doug TenNapel–all of whose work I enjoy immensely.relatable way for middle grade readers who are starting this journey themselves.

The Not-So-Great Stuff:

The Okay Witch falls apart for me, unfortunately, in the climactic magical battle (which we all know is coming). The ‘villain’ in the final clash against the witches is only vilified by his ancestry; the reader is not given any personal character details that allow the creation of the final battle to make sense from his point of view. Structurally the whole story collapsed at that point. My guess is that a lot of readers will give this hiccup in the story a pass because the plotline does proceed in a predictable way–it just doesn’t develop organically from the characters and specific situation at the end. For me, it broke the flow of the story(similar to when an actor breaks character on stage) and I found it difficult to recover from that.

 

Despite my experience of the ending I do think The Okay Witch resolves in a satisfying way for the reader.  I will recommend The Okay Witch to middle grade readers and I will keep my eyes open for Emma Steinkellner’s next work–whether that revisits these characters or creates new ones.