The cover of the advanced reader copy of The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner recalled some classic “witch books” and stories such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Kiki, and a few that I know I know but cannot come to the front of my brain. The only real difference is that our main characters are of color. And while that is mentioned in an almost casual manner in the book (not only are our heroes persecuted for being witches, there are “other reasons” people do not like them. The adult can assume that it is because they are black, and most are independent women as the only male in the group is a young boy that has an interesting family lineage), it is just there and in the long run, not a “big deal.”
What is a big deal is the funny and slightly thriller story. The modern looking characters and themes are a fun. There is a lot of humor as we see Moth, our hero, a typical teen trying and not able to fit in. But when she accidently causes some magic to happen she learns that something (not so) wicked this way comes. She is a witch. Her mother was born in the 1600’s (and looks marvelous for her age I might add) and the man (Mr. Laszlo) who owned the second-hand shop they now run, is a talking cat. (You do not know funny until you “hear” an old talking, Jewish, gay cat who still has the brain of a cat part time and a man the rest of the time.) Later a friend of moth is injured and his reaction to it all is amazing. This humor takes away from more serious issues in the story.
The story is semi-Romeo and Juliet (Moth’s best friend, Charlie, comes from the line of men who have been persecuting witches and Moth’s family for centuries) but also as it is aimed at the 10 to 14-year-old crowd, the romance angle is slightly played down. However, there is mention of teen-pregnancy (spoiler: when Moth’s mother leaves her magical home, she is still a young woman who finds a human boy and then nine-months later Happy Birthday Moth) and there is a story how Mr. Laszlo and his friend Albee Folks (the curator of the museum in town) meet (on the bridge that if you see a woman dressed in mist, you will find your true love). Yet, all of this is just common, every day. It is presented in a kid-friendly manner. Yet, it is there. As are some scarier moments (cue the thriller): Moth’s mom is taken by Charlie’s dad; there are ghosts, there is the mother-daughter relationship between Moth and her mother and Moth’s mother and grandmother (teen rebellion is not limited to 2019).
As an adult reading this, I think I picked up on some clues that some kids might not see. That makes me want to continue the story of Moth. Only thing is, I have no idea when or if there will be a book two! But book one will grace us in September.