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Monday, February 19, 2018

The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic, 2017. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"Something is taking our boys. Something that sneaks through our boundaries and evades us at every turn. It may be an animal spirit, but what would its motivation be? It may be a demon we've never encountered before. We need to stay on guard. We need to find out how this monster is getting to us, and where it's keeping our boys. I refuse to believe they're ...  not alive."

Graphic novels hold appeal for many. Not surprising when the books just keep getting better and better. I heard from one of the kids I know who loves them that I should read this one. So, I did ... and now I can tell you all about it.

Aster, at 13, is finally old enough to recognize his animal spirit. It is the animal that will allow him to shape-shift. One small problem, or perhaps an insurmountable one, is the fact that Aster has no interest in that destiny. He is far more interested in magic, only taught to girls. Witchery is forbidden for the boys in his community.

As his Aunt Vervain teaches her craft to the girls allowed to learn it, Aster takes careful notes from a hiding place close by. When caught, his mother has a family story to relate. She tells him that his grandmother's twin brother was also attracted to witchery, and his forays into the forbidden art ended in adversity for the villagers. He was forced to leave. She doesn't want her son to face the same fate.

Aster accepts the danger, but cannot let go of his dream. So, he practises when he is alone and far from the village. Charlie, a female outsider, sees him, understands the way he feels, and becomes his friend as he deals with his wish to be different from the others. When two of the village boys are taken by an unknown being, Aster knows he can help to find them. Can he admit what he knows and how he knows what he does? Can he help to bring them home?

Ms. Ostertag builds a credible world in distinct images filled with color and emotion. The characters are likeable, and focused. Readers cannot help but feel sorry for Aster's plight, despite his skill at witchery. He feels ostracized by his community for his differences, and looks to Charlie for the support he needs. She is a fine friend, and does all she can to support him.

Fans of graphic novels will find much to like about this one.

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