Reading Pile: The Okay Witch GN
The past few years have seen an explosion of great witch centric stories that have tended to lean LGTBQ+ friendly or have otherwise focused on various issues of race, disability, and other important representations. I was meaning to check this out back in 2019 as I've loved the majority of other witch books I've read over the past couple years (such as Snapdragon, Witch Hat Atelier, and Deep & Dark Blue to name a few), so here we finally are. And two years late is actually pretty good for me, so we'll take that as some form of progress.
Emma Steinkellner's first volume of Okay Witch is also her debut graphic novel and it's a thoroughly impressive outing. The story follows Moth, an awkward 13-year old (I guess that's redundant) who lives in a small town in Massachusetts. She deals with the usual feelings of social anxiety and of being seen as an outsider at school, so she's hoping to ride under the radar this Halloween by dressing as a witch an hoping her classmates just ignore her.
Steinkeller rolls out a well paced series of intros to the core characters and backstory in the first act as we get a few chunks of exposition in the form of school lectures and flashbacks, all of which have fun with it so that it's not just a series of bland exposition scenes. Basically the town has a history of witch hunts and a fair share of unsolved mysteries, all of which starts to rear its collective head as Moth starts to discover she is in fact a witch.
The story never really goes over the top with any of the magic elements, which is a great touch. It's certainly important, but it takes a backseat to the character development and instead is handled more as part of a heritage and sense of identity. To that effect Moth's mother and grandmother are both central to the story, giving us a multi-generational story of empowered women who all handle their power differently.
A chunk of the fun in the story is how they focus on Moth's grandmother Sarah and how she is a major source of conflict but isn't a straight up antagonist. She's actually incredibly badass and a multidimensional character who is also allowed to have an interesting arc of development. There's enough unexplored chunks of her timeline that it would make for a great book in the series, and that's always a good sign when the variety of characters makes you want to see that expansion.
A chunk of the story of course focuses on Moth exploring and developing her powers, and this is nicely weaved into the other sub-plots about her family. Each act of the story is well executed in connecting all the foreshadowing and earlier set-ups with the major beats of the core plot, all while they are juggling with issues of race and violence through the lens of the persecution of witches. These elements aren't too heavy in their handling though as this is geared towards the 8-12 demographic. There's enough to get the ball rolling on the subject, and perhaps that's something we'll see more of in future installments as the second book is due out this July.
For $12.99 you a get a pretty dense 272 pages of story, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. This is something I would definitely recommend for fans the likes of Raina Telgemeier or if you or your kids have already been reading books such as Molly Ostertag's Hidden Witch. And while this is geared towards that 8-12 age group there's plenty here to appreciate as an adult as Steinkellner is an exceptionally strong storyteller with a fun art style. On top of all of that you have a multi-generational story focused on women of color and books like that for this age group should be cherished and stocked in classrooms and school libraries.