I began my Hallowe’en reading as gently as possible with Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks. I’d figured I’d finish it the same way, and Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch seemed liked the perfect — and perfectly pleasant — bookend.
This middle grade graphic novel tells the story of Moth Hush (the best name), an upbeat but lonely teenage outcast growing up in a small, tight-knit colonial town, who, shortly after turning thirteen, finds out she comes from a long line of witches. Her mother has eschewed magic, however, and is unwilling to talk to Moth about witchcraft, preferring to leave history behind. This is, of course, not acceptable to our teenage protagonist, who is only too eager to find out more about the thing that might make her feel like she belongs. Her exploration into the past mostly spells out trouble, though, and soon stirs up old grudges and grievances.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie (and also, if we’re being honest, probably my favorite film full stop). I love pretty much everything about: from the story to the setting to the oh-so-lovable characters. It’s a movie that perfectly showcases the kind of everyday, commonplace courage that Miyazaki is so fond of portraying. I got major Kiki vibes from The Okay Witch and that was the main reason I picked it up. And there are similarities, to be sure: they are both endearing and intensely charming stories about young women trying to figure out where they fit in the world. The Okay Witch does its own thing with the premise though, and tells an effective story about prejudice — and, indeed, pride — with characters who deal with the haunted past in varying ways: the townsfolk, who hold it to the highest regard; the witches, who endured years of bigotry and persecution, and understandably wish to leave it all behind; Moth’s mother, Calendula (another best name), who believes in change above all.
And then there is Moth, prepared to push the bad aside, yearning to embrace the good, and perfectly willing to build a better world out of it all. And, like Kiki — one of her literary predecessors — she’s got the kind of courage to deliver it to us, too.