Rating: Significant Shortcomings
Reading/Interest Level: Young Adult
Author: Molly Knox Ostertag
Aster is a teen who lives in a magic community. In his world, men are shapeshifters who protect, and women are witches who gather knowledge and provide for the community. Aster hasn’t come into his powers yet, and has no interest in shapeshifting. He’s interested in witchcraft, but witchcraft is not for boys. So Aster teaches himself. When other boys begin disappearing and one returns mangled and in half-monster form, the suspected culprit is something worse than a demon. A demonic-monster appears in Aster's room and offers to help him discover a powerful form. Aster falsely accepts the offer and enters the demon’s lair, where he finds the missing boys and uses witchcraft to trick and defeat the monster. Aster returns home victoriously with the kidnapped boys. His witchcraft is finally acknowledged and accepted by the community.
When the story is analyzed from a sociopolitical view, it becomes a thinly veiled bid for acceptance of politically correct views on gender. Aster doesn’t fit his culture’s expectations for a boy. He endures scolding by witches and excessive cruelty at the hands of other boys. Worst of all, he’s hopelessly misunderstood by his parents, who are completely deaf and blind to his pleas. Because of these external pressures, Aster spends all his time being scared or sad. He’s made out to be a very unfortunate, persecuted, and helpless protagonist. This feels manipulative because the book is pressing the audience to wholly take Aster’s side, as all other characters, with the exception of one, are hurting him. The result is a shallow, mopey, politically-charged message, hiding desperately under the guise of a cute story about love and acceptance.