During winter break, Moth Hush comes to terms with the revelation of her witch heritage and powers. Her mother, also a witch, helps Moth learn new spells and Moth gets happier with each one she picks up. Moth has a best friend in Carter, a boy from one of her classes, and Mr. Laszlo, a talking cat. Her life, friendships, and relationship with her mother couldn’t be better!
Unfortunately, Moth’s life doesn’t stay stress-free for long. At school, she runs into bullies that she wishes would leave her alone. After an incident in which she accidentally wears a similar outfit to a teacher, the bullies make Moth their latest victim and torment her for being the teacher’s “twin.” To make matters worse, Moth’s grandmother wants Moth to become a powerful witch and puts a lot of pressure on Moth to succeed in studying and practicing magic.
When Moth finds a solution to her problem — a magic charm that can bring out a confident and self-assured version of herself — things start out great. She gets praise from her grandmother and admiration from her classmates. With magic, Moth feels like she has a handle on how she presents herself to her family and classmates. But depending on magic to achieve her wildest dreams causes Moth’s life to spiral out of control.
The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow expands upon Moth’s school life. Many students are ruthless bullies; they stop at nothing to terrorize someone, never letting a joke or prank run dry. Moth’s tormentors mock Moth for her old-fashioned clothing, crooked teeth, and dark skin. Moth stresses over her looks and wonders if she would fit in if she changed her appearance. Readers will relate to Moth’s self-esteem issues, her struggle to accept herself for who she is, and her desire to fit in with the rest of the student body.
Moth discovers more about discrimination and exclusion from her grandmother’s stories about her witch heritage. Most witches in the Hush order (Moth’s grandmother’s previous order) believed that Moth’s grandmother was undeserving of her high-ranking position due to her skin color and class. In one conversation, Moth’s grandmother states, “They refused to see me as an equal.” Discussions such as these call attention to mistreatment towards underrepresented communities, showing prejudice is still pervasive not just in Moth’s grandmother’s time but also in the modern era.
Steinkellner’s full use of the graphic novel format lends itself to dynamic paneling and excellent pacing. Thick outlines make characters stand out while vibrant colors and pastels will keep readers engaged. Reluctant readers may like that most pages do not have words but rather tell the story through illustrations. In addition, Moth’s perspective as the narrator makes The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow easy to follow.
To relate to today’s readers, The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow incorporates modern-day technology. Familiar technology, such as smartphones and social media, brings readers closer to Moth’s world and highlights Moth’s desire to fit in. Memes, texting, and pop culture references invite the reader to become involved in the story. The inclusion of diverse characters and family dynamics adds depth and promotes diversity and representation.
Through her experiences, Moth learns an important lesson about integrity and self-trust. She doesn’t need to take shortcuts for quicker results or use magic to change herself to fit in: she can become whoever she wants by her own means without destroying herself from the inside out. Readers who want to learn more about standing up to bullies should also read Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher and Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Witches perform magic spells in various ways: nonverbally, incantations, gestures, or a mix of the three. For example, Moth shrinks a bug by aiming her pinky at it, scrunching her nose, and twisting her arm to the right. Moth is surrounded by magic and magical occurrences every day. As such, not all instances are listed here.
- Moth finds the nyklum, a “powerful charm that may transform its wearer into a bolder, more self-assured version of themselves.” The charm requires a small item from the person the witch chooses to imitate and the following incantation: “Bring it forth that I may be the better half that waits in me.” Moth uses the nyklum to become popular. She becomes more confident in herself and gains the attention of her classmates.
- The more a witch draws upon the nyklum, the more likely the ancient demon Shadriel Kannibalstisch will take over the witch, incapacitating her for good. As the story progresses, Moth risks being taken over by Shadriel Kannibalstisch.
- Shadriel Kannibalstisch, also known as the Hungry Shadow, is a demon that looks to take over a person. The demon makes the witch formidable, but it corrupts the witch at the same time. When Shadriel Kannibalstisch becomes more powerful than its host, Shadriel eclipses them, the witch dies, and Shadriel takes the witch’s body for itself.
- To be more confident in front of her classmates, Moth wants to use the nyklum at the Valentine’s Day school dance. Upon hearing about the consequences of using the nyklum, Moth removes the nyklum to destroy Shadriel Kannibalstisch before it eclipses her.
- Shadriel Kannibalstisch comes out of the nyklum to stop Moth from destroying both it and the nyklum. When Shadriel Kannibalstisch shows itself, it takes control of the other students. Shadriel Kannibalstisch’s magic doesn’t hurt the students.
- To repel the students that Shadriel Kannibalstisch controls, Moth’s mother and another witch use magic to throw a wall of light to shake the demon’s hold on the students. The students are unharmed. The wall of light restrains or startles the students.
- Moth defeats the demon by shrinking the nyklum to an imperceptibly miniscule size. In doing so, the students are freed from the demon’s control.
- Professor Folks, a museum educator at the local museum, believes animals are like humans in some ways. When seeing Mr. Laszlo, Professor Folks states, “I’ve always felt that animals have a special soul inside them. Look into this cat’s eyes. So expressive. So human. Almost as if we’re old, dear friends.”