The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, 272 pp, RL 4
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
For her debut graphic novel The Okay Witch, Steinkellner crafts a superb story that seamlessly weaves multicultural characters and racism into a story set in a part of American known for its witch trials. Moth Hush has lived in Founder's Bluff, MA with her mother since she was born. Friendless and picked on her whole life, Moth is pleasantly surprised when, on Halloween and dressed as a witch, she makes two discoveries. First, she finds a friend in new kid Charlie. Then, she discovers she has magical powers when she unwittingly removes the mouths of her tormentors. Rushing home to the secondhand store they live above, a store her mother inherited its original owner, Joe Laszlo, Moth is looking for answers. But her mother won't talk, telling her to forget about magic.
Despite this, Moth finds her familiar in a talking black cat who just happens to be sharing his "spirit space" with Mr. Laszlo. Together, the pair delve into Moth's mother's diary, where Moth learns some startling, disturbing things about her family and their history in the town dating back to the 1690s.
The past catches up with the present and Moth has some decisions to make and battles to fight. Steinkellner, a graduate of Stanford University's Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies makes connections between the founder of Founder's Bluff, who wants a town of "sober, obedient, lily-white Pilgrims," and descendent factory owners who, in 1895 attempt to lock the workers, girls, inside the burning building so that they can collect the insurance on them. Moth has to come to terms with the persecutions of the past and the prejudices of the present, as well as the complicated relationship between her own mother and grandmother as well as her own sense of self gained by the discovery of blossoming magical talents and her mother's refusal to support her in this. Complex and rich, but also sweetly funny, The Okay Witch is is delight to read, and a book that you will want to read again and again. Steinkellner's illustrations, especially the facial expressions, convey a powerful range of emotions and are pulsing with energy, comic and adventurous. I hope that we see more of Moth Hush, Calendula, Charlie and the secret community of Hecate in the future!