In “Americus,” the Harry Potter censorship drama plays out in small-town America

Neil couldn't survive life in small-town Americus without his favorite fantasy series. But when a fundamentalist group threatens to censor the books, Neil finds himself on the frontlines of a social war – and may just find his own strength.

Americus is one of several books the publisher First Second is serializing as a webcomic before publishing in print. The full book, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill, is due out this fall.

The battle over banning books like the Harry Potter series because of "occult" themes is familiar from the headlines, and Americus watches a similar battle unfold. But it's not just about the culture war between groups that would not suffer a witch book to live and those looking to protect their favorite books. It's also about the power of literature, and the strength some people find in defending it.

Neil Barton is a high school freshman who never quite fit in with his small Oklahoma town. He's being raised by a sweet but overtaxed single mother, and his sole refuges are his best friend Danny and the Apathea Ravenchilde books, a fantasy series filled with dragons, talking wolves, and a butt-kicking heroine – who just happens to be a witch. But just as high school is about to start, Danny is abruptly shipped out of town and a crew of evangelical mothers starts a campaign to ban the books from the public library, fearing it will lead the children to witchcraft.

But it's not just Neil who finds strength in Apathea Ravenchilde. Other people in the town of Americus read the books – some for escape, some for inspiring female role models. Although these characters haven't connected yet, there is the sense that Americus is, unbeknownst to Neil, a town filled with kindred spirits. And the books' effect on Neil himself is profound; shy outcast though he is, without Danny to lean, he finds himself drawn to the outspoken girls at his new school, girls unintimidated and unimpressed by blustering boys or authoritarian teachers.

But it may be the threat to Apathea that really brings out Neil's inner strength. The town's youth services librarian, herself a butt-kicking lady, thrusts Neil out of his comfort zone and into the role of the books' defender. Perhaps there Neil can finally find his voice and his place in this town.

[Americus]