The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag, color by Maarta Laiho, 208 pp, RL 4

The Midwinter Witch by Molly Ostertag
color by Maarta Laiho
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
With The Midwinter Witch, Molly Ostertag delivers a third deeply satisfying, engaging, exciting graphic novel with two compelling story lines. The Midwinter Witch is filled with complex emotional relationships and personal challenges, and yet the story itself is so straightforwardly streamlined. There are layers in these books, and repeated readings are rewarded again and again. The world of witches and shapeshifters may be what draws readers in, but it is the personal relationships that Ostertag creates for her characters that keeps you returning for more.

The Midwinter Festival is a magical family reunion that happens at a mountain retreat where leylines meet. Among other festivities is the annual Jolrun, where young shifters and witches compete for the title of Midwinter Shifter and Midwinter Witch. Aster's big sister Juniper, and mother Holly, have both won this title and he hopes to as well. Yet, in doing so, he will also be declaring to his entire extended family that he is breaking tradition and pursuing a historically female magical practice. Despite his mother counseling him not to compete, Aster's friends and sister encourage him, telling him that, seeing him compete might make other witch boys and shifter girls hiding their powers feel safe to practice them openly. As Aster struggles with his decision, Ariel Torres, who was introduced in The Hidden Witch, is trying to feel comfortable with connection to others and family life after years of being in foster homes. Taken under the wing of the Vanissens, Ariel is learning witch craft, but not always practicing mindfully. At night, in her dreams, her aunt Isabel comes to her, trying to convince Ariel that the Vanissens can't nurture her true power - her connection to darkness and capacity to hurt others. Isabel assures her that, when the Vanissens reject her, she can call on her to be taken away. Aster and Ariel's storylines collide at the Jolrun, and her capacity to hurt others seems to be proving horribly true. Once again, Ostertag has created an intriguing parallel magical world that exists along side ours, with Charlie being the connection between the two, the human representative with a lot to offer, despite her non-magical status. While Aster's journey of acceptance is always rewarding, in Charlie and Ariel's friendship, Ostertag creates some powerful moments. Charlie seems to always know when Ariel needs connection the most, and at first Ariel sees this kindness as a weakness. After the climax with her aunt, she begins to see that Charlie's compassion is actually an act of bravery, telling her, by way of thanks, "you make me soft." 

Important ideas about connection and acceptance that are worth repeating over and over.

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