Biblio File, Stuff for the Teen Age
The Witches of YA
When The Crucible made its debut on January 22, 1953, Arthur Miller turned a Broadway spotlight on the story of the 17th-century Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller’s now-iconic play—about a group of girls who falsely accuse women in their Puritan town of practicing witchcraft—had serious resonance with his McCarthy-era audience.
Here in Readers Services, we decided to acknowledge the anniversary of the play’s premiere with a paean to young witches in books for teens. YA fiction has long held a special place in its collective heart for brujas, mages, and would-be spell-casters from Salem and far beyond.
Today’s authors are writing teen witches like never before, and here are a few of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comments. (And we know, we didn't include Hermione . . . but the Library classifies Harry Potter as children's literature and this list is only YA, so she missed it on a technicality!)
Many thanks to YA fantasy experts Crystal Chen, Grace Dwyer, Katrina Ortega, Anne Rouyer, Susen Shi, Brian Stokes, and Grace Yamada for their contributions.
Alex and the Brooklyn brujas from Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
In this Latina tale of magical realism, Alex tries to reject her own powers. But when her attempts to rid herself of magic backfire during her Deathday celebration, she’s sucked into a magical otherworld to rescue her family.
Sunny from the Akata Witch series by Nnedi Okorafor
As the American-born albino daughter of Nigerian parents, Sunny has been called a witch many times—but it isn’t until her family returns to Nigeria that she realizes she really IS one. She uses her magic to help catch a serial killer (and, in the sequel, to save the entire world).
Sefia from The Sea of Ink and Gold series by Traci Chee
Sefia doesn’t quite fit the traditional definition of a witch, but she does have brand-new magical abilities. And she also has a dangerous secret: In a world where a book is an unknown entity . . . she can read.
Iolanthe Seabourne from The Elemental trilogy by Sherry Thomas
As an elemental mage, Iolante can summon lightning bolts at will—but her magical skills bring attention from a dangerous tyrant, and she must plot together with another mage in non-magical London to save their entire Realm.
Nathan from the Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green
In modern-day England, Nathan—the son of a good witch and an evil witch—is considered an abomination. He’s kept in a cage, starved, beaten, and trained to be a killer. If he wants to live, he’ll need to escape and find his father, the most evil and violent witch of all. Or is he? This book completely flips the narrative of what it means to be good or bad, and is one of the few witch stories we can think of that features with a male hero.
Penelope Bunce from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
In this Potter-inspired fantasy, Simon Snow gets most of the attention as he tries to save the world from the Insidious Humdrum, but his best friend is the smartest witch at Watford.
Sophie from the Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins
After a love spell goes awry, Sophie finds herself at “a boarding school for delinquent Prodigium (witches, warlocks, faeries, shape-shifters, and the occasional vampire).”
Arsinoe, Katharine, and Mirabella from the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake
The book’s central poem says it all:
Three Black Witches are born in a glen,
sweet little triplets
will never be friends.
Three Black Witches, all fair to be seen
two to devour
and one to be queen
Celaena Sardothien from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
This epic series begins with Celeana, a fierce assassin, competing to become the king’s champion and eventually win her own freedom.
The Nomeovides from Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
A whole tribe of witches falls in love with the same girl and unearth a time-traveling prince.
Ada and Corinne in Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Set in pre-Prohibitionist Boston, this historical fiction tells the story of two “hemopaths”—teens whose own blood gives them powers to manipulate and create illusions.
The Descendants in How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
When Samantha has to move back to Salem, she’s initially shunned at school for her familial connection to Cotton Mather, who condemned the accused women in the 17th century. (Note the author’s last name.) Samantha has to face down the descendants of the accused witches . . . who may or may not be witches themselves.
Mary in Witch Child by Celia Rees
After her grandmother is hanged for being a witch in England in 1659, Mary is spirited away and put on a boat full of Puritans bound for the American colonies. She’s told to never speak of her past, never do magic nor give anyone cause to think she’s a witch. For Mary that will be no easy task in Salem, Massachusetts. A fast paced piece of historical fiction with a strong female narrator.
Nico from Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Adrian Alphona
One librarian called Nico “the YA witch of my heart.” She’s the Japanese-American goth leader of a superhero team, equipped with a staff that can only cast each spell once. (The first volume of a reboot by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka is coming out later this year.)
Sabrina from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Robert Hack
A horror comic about 16-year-old Sabrina’s choice to become mortal or join forces with some deeply creepy witches, after Madam Satan is raised from the depths of Hell. Not your Disney-fied Sabrina (and the first volume is even called The Crucible . . . )
Abbie from M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder
Abbie—a deaf girl injured in a sandstorm—only reluctantly embraces her magical powers after she needs to protect the town that helped her recover.
Andy, Jolene, and Claire from Spell on Wheels by Kate Leth, art by Megan Levens
Don’t steal from witches. The end.
Willow from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics
True, this series is inspired by the TV show, but Willow is too important to leave off any list of teen witches. She started out as a regular nerd like the rest of us and became impossibly cool and powerful (but still kind). How’s that for aspirational?
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!