A genre that defies easy categorization, magical realism is often associated with the work of Latin American authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude) and Laura Esquivel (Like Water For Chocolate). In magical realism, mystical or fantastic events are rendered as everyday occurrences. The extraordinary and the ordinary are intertwined; inseparable. In recent years, the style has seeped into young adult literature in wonderful ways. Here are some of our favorite magical realism YA books, all of which offer glimpses into worlds not quite like our own. In their pages, a girl is born with the wings of a bird; the town of Bone Gap may swallow you whole; a dead boy’s coat remains damp months after his drowning; and Hekamists cast spells that enable you to forget your pain.
The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, by Meg Medina
Born during a storm that threatened to decimate everyone in the tiny mountain village of Tres Montes, Sonia Ocampo is considered an angel sent by God to keep the villagers safe. Cursed and burdened by others’ expectations, prayer requests, and demands, “She only knew what she did not want to be. Not magic. Not lonely. Not trapped.” Desperate to travel somewhere she’s not known, she leaves her beloved Pancho (a poetic classmate) behind, and accepts a job working for a wealthy family in the Capitol. Though written in the tradition of “old mountain stories,” The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a tender love story, a family drama, and most importantly, a tale about casting off a role that’s impossible to sustain.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton
Ava Lavender is born, in 1944, with wings. Coveted, feverishly and obsessively, by Nathaniel Sorrows, who believes she’s an angel, Ava is but one in a long line of Lavender women who have been dealt more than their share of suffering. Curious about her origins, Ava undertakes a research project to learn more about her fairytale-esque ancestry. A lyrical, powerful meditation on “love’s scars,” this book was a Morris Award Finalist this year.
Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby
A stunning literary achievement that broke my heart with its beautifully rendered characters and insight, Bone Gap proves magical realism tells the truth about the world in ways straightforward fiction can’t. When lovely, mysterious newcomer Roza disappears from the Illinois farm town of Bone Gap, no one believes moony, peculiar Finn O’Sullivan when he says she was kidnapped. This is because Finn can’t describe the perpetrator in any way that makes sense, and his older brother Sean hates him for it. As Finn searches for clues and falls in love with the local beekeeper’s daughter, he comes to learn something about himself he never knew was a secret.
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All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry
Raised like sisters because of their respective mothers’ best friendship, Aurora and our unnamed narrator, a painter, complement one another. While Aurora, the gorgeous, risk-taking daughter of a deceased Kurt Cobain-ish musician, is “happiest as the sun at the center of a solar system,” the narrator is “at peace as a quiet moon, no light coming from me but that light that was hers first.” Their friendship, love, and codependency are tested when they’re both drawn to the same man, Jack, who has more than a few things in common with the Orpheus of Greek myth. A sumptuously written story rich with detail and symbolism.
The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman
In this debut novel with four compelling narrators, we’re introduced to the art of hekame, or spellcasting. Want to look more attractive? Erase your depression? Remove the memory of a loved one? There’s a spell for that—but each decision has gut-wrenching consequences, especially when Ari and her friends Markos and Kay start to lie about what they’ve done, to whom, and why.
The Cure For Dreaming, by Cat Winters
Morris Award finalist Cat Winters (In the Shadow of Blackbirds) is a master at immersing readers in the past. Here, she brings us a spellbinding tale set in 1900 Portland. Seventeen-year-old Olivia Mead, whose independent-minded mother abandoned the family, proves susceptible to hypnotism, so her father hires Henri Reverie, a touring mesmerist, to suppress Olivia’s rebelliousness and “unfeminine beliefs.” The “cure” comes with the disturbing ability to see men and women for who they really are. As a result, Olivia views her father as a monster, and has visions of women in cages at anti-Suffrage meetings. And that’s just the beginning…
The River King, by Alice Hoffman
In the town of Haddan, Massachusetts, a decades-long rift between wealthy boarding school students and the local townspeople is torn wide open after the drowning murder of Gus Pierce, an outcast student. Policeman Abel Grey, whose actions as a teenager once contributed to the town’s collective grief, is determined to solve the crime. Meanwhile, Gus’s crush and best friend, Carlin Leander, grows ever more despondent as stones, water lilies, sand, and silver fish surface in her room, gifts from the deceased.
September Girls, by Bennett Madison
Forced by his “vapid, maddeningly oblivious” father to spend the summer in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, 17-year-old Sam is subjected to his crass older brother Jeff’s insistence that he lose his virginity while on vacation. Sam is the first narrator of the story. The second narrator is a collective: “strange beach machine girls”—each one blonde, beautiful, and otherworldly—who work as waitresses, checkout girls, and hotel maids. They travel in packs. They have no memories of their home, only that they’re deeply scared of the water from whence they came, and into which they will one day return. Madison’s writing is utterly captivating.