My fascination with witchy characters began in childhood, when I often imagined myself with the powers I read about in fantasy novels. I’ll never tire of meeting characters who manipulate magic, whether they’re inspired by real cultural histories or common fantasy tropes. Thankfully, witches are a timeless fixture in literature, and the following books are incredible additions to the Y.A. canon.
Deep in Providence, by Riss M. Neilson
In Neilson’s haunting debut, a young coven grapples with the pain of their friend Jasmine’s death. Unable to accept that she’s gone, the budding witches Miliani, Natalie and Inez vow to do whatever it takes to resurrect her, eventually relying on magic that feels hungrier and darker than what they’d previously dabbled in, while each also struggles with her own personal problems. The magic of this book isn’t just in the spells these witches use to change their lives; it’s also in Neilson’s expert handling of their raw grief. The characters here are perfectly messy, and her prose is like a warm hug, always reaching into the characters’ hearts with kindness.
How to Succeed in Witchcraft, by Aislinn Brophy
The world inBrophy’s debut feels close to how I envisioned magic would work in our everyday lives — with convenient spells to cure acne or fix a bad hair day. Brophy’s debut follows Shay, a student attending a prestigious magic school. Her future depends on a competitive scholarship endowed by a privileged family, and her chances of winning that grant hinges on the opinion of the school’s most popular teacher, a dilemma that forces Shay into a situation that grows more unsettling with every page. Being a teenager is hard and writing teens authentically is harder; Brophy does so with ease, effortlessly weaving humor, magic and romance in a narrative that stares oppressive power structures in the face.
Daughters of Jubilation, by Kara Lee Corthron
Though Evalene Deschamps is hesitant to call herself a “witch,” she could go toe to toe with the best spell casters in Y.A. fantasy. Evvie comes of age in the Jim Crow South, and she is in possession of a volatile magic. Her abilities are tied to her emotions, and their unpredictability is inconvenient at best, but oftentimes violent. She learns about her powers under the tutelage of her Grandma Atti, and their scenes are some of the most captivating in the book. Evvie eventually finds out that her magic was born as a defense against the pain wrought on her ancestors by slavery and white supremacy, and as she learns to control her powers, she must also navigate typical teen things — complicated friendships, big-sister responsibilities and blossoming young love.
Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker; illustrated by Wendy Xu
“Mooncakes” follows Nova, a plant witch who works at a magical bookstore with her grandmothers. As strange, mystical incidents pop up around town, Nova’s childhood friend — the werewolf Tam — returns. The pair plan to defeat the demon lurking in the nearby forest, and discover that Tam is the key to defeating it, either by destroying it or by becoming a vessel to house it. This book is cozy and charming; the romance that develops between Nova and Tam is sweet; and the relationship she has with her supportive grandmothers adds another layer of heart. Walker’s text explores self-discovery while being both tender and laugh-out-loud funny, and Xu’s lovely art will have you savoring every inch of every panel.
Witchy, by Ariel Slamet Ries
In magical Hyalin, the strongest witches are distinguished by the length of their hair. To avoid serving in the kingdom’s guard, the same organization that murdered her father, the young witch Nyneve enchants her own hair to appear shorter. But when conscription begins, Nyneve is no longer able to conceal her magic. Determined to stay away from service, but unsure about leading a rebellion against the guard, Nyneve searches for a safe place to hide from the forces searching for her. There’s much to love about “Witchy,” but I particularly like the conversations about inherent abilities in opposition to learned skills. This is a delightful graphic novel fantasy series featuring action-packed fights, journeys of self-discovery and my personal favorite — a talking raven named Banana.
The Mirror Season, by Anna-Marie McLemore
As La Bruja de los Pasteles, the pastry witch of San Juan Capistrano, Graciela is able to know just what confection a customer needs when they walk through the doors of her family’s pastelería. With this gift, she serves treats that grant customers courage, hope or confidence. But after a night where both she and a new classmate, Lock, are sexually assaulted by a group of popular classmates from powerful families, she finds her magic floundering. Ciela must reckon with the truth of that night on her journey to recover her magic and heal. With their unforgettable writing, McLemore treats their characters and themes sensitively, but never shies away from the very real pain in these narratives.