Thirteen-year-old Aster is of age to find the animal that will deem him worthy to take its shape as a shape-shifter. There’s just one problem. Aster doesn’t want to shape-shift—he wants to do witchery, which is forbidden for boys.
Aunt Vervain teaches witchery to the girls, and Aster hides, taking careful notes—but he’s caught. His mother tells him a family secret: his grandmother’s male twin was attracted to witchery. After dabbling in forbidden magic, he morphed into something terrible, caused a disaster in their village, and was cast out. Though Aster’s horrified, he can’t resist practicing magic alone in the woods. To his delight, it works, but he’s seen by Charlie, a black girl from outside his community, and eventually she becomes the confidante and adviser he’s needed. On the night of the Finding, a boy is taken by a mysterious creature. Aster knows he can help with witchery, but he’d have to admit how much he’s learned. Ostertag’s story is straightforward, acting as a parable for gender conformity that’s pitched just right to middle-grade audiences. Her panels are clear, colorful, and friendly, and her worldbuilding flawless, Aster’s magic-working community sitting cheek by jowl with Charlie’s suburb. Characters are all different races: Aster’s mother appears white, his father appears Asian, and Aster has darker skin than his mother but has her red hair.
With charming artwork, interesting supporting characters, natural-feeling diversity, and peeks of a richly developed world, this book leaves readers wishing for more. (Graphic fantasy. 8-12)