Magical Realism In Young Adult Literature

Georgetown LibraryStaff Picks

Magical Realism In Young Adult Literature

Magical realism, a genre of narrative fiction that is frequently associated with Latin-American literature, is something I have loved since I was a teenager. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, magical realism stories are often set in realistic places with bits of magic sprinkled throughout. I started off reading magical realism for adults, and some of my favorite authors include Jonathan Safran Foer, Sarah Addison Allen and Zadie Smith. As many avid readers know, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer played a critical role in making young adult literature popular, thus causing an increase in publication of novels of all genres for teen audiences. Below are 10 stunning magical realism books for young adult readers that are available from DC Public Library.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Miel is a Latina teen who grows roses from her wrist and fears pumpkins. Sam is an Italian-Pakistani boy who hangs his painted moons in trees. Miel and Sam have been connected since Miel appeared in a water tower as a child and Sam brought her home.  Everyone thinks of Miel and Sam as inseparable and incredibly odd. Eventually their friendship turns to romance, their secrets held close: Sam is transgender, made possible by the Pakistani practice bacha posh, where families without sons allow a daughter to live as a boy. Miel shares secrets about her family and her past. Miel and Sam have always avoided the Bonner sisters, four girls who may or may not be witches and believe that Miel’s roses hold special powers. Not only do the Bonner sisters want to take what Miel has, they’re willing to reveal all of her secrets in the process. When the Moon Was Ours is a stunning novel about gender identity filled with cultural traditions from Pakistan, Latin America and the U.S.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Fabiola Toussaint and her mother have made the decision to move from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to the intersection of American Street and Joy Road, where Fabiola’s aunt and three cousins live. Unfortunately, plans go awry when Fabiola’s mother is detained at immigration, and Fabiola turns to her Vodou faith for hope. In her home, Fabiola’s aunt doesn’t let her speak Creole and her cousins are caught up in the drugs and violence that pervade the neighborhood. As she finds unexpected romance and assimilates to her new world, Fabiola realizes that in order to get her mother back, she must put her own life on the line. Readers looking for a gritty, emotional story with a hint of Vodou will be moved by American Street.

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Wink is the red-haired girl who is obsessed with fairy tales and talks in riddles. Poppy is the queen bee at her schoola beautiful but manipulative person.  Midnight is the quiet neighbor who has loved Poppy for a great deal of his life. Midnight starts to spend time with Wink in the hopes of getting over Poppy. As it turns out, Poppy is in love with Wink’s brother, Leaf, and the fates of all three become intertwined when Poppy decides to lock Wink in a decrepit mansion overnight. Meanwhile, Wink, who loves fairy tales, knows that every story needs a hero and a villain, and revolves around revenge, justice and love. Tucholke’s novel raises the question: Who is telling the truth? Wink Poppy Midnight is perfect for audiences looking for a whimsical and atmospheric novel.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Sixteen-year-old Alex comes from a long line of brujas and is an encantrix, one of the most powerful types of brujas. On her Deathday, Alex is supposed to summon her family’s ancestors and receive their blessings. Instead, she does a spell in an attempt to get rid of her powers, and her whole family disappears. Now Alex must travel to the magical underworld, Los Lagos, in the hopes of getting her family back, with a boy named Nova as her guide. Cordova’s book is perfect for anyone wanting a title on the more magical end of the magical realism spectrum.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
The nameless narrator of All Our Pretty Songs is best friends with and caretaker to the beautiful, magnetic, carefree Aurora, just as their mothers were once best friends. Both girls have lived without their fathers for years. While the narrator and her fortune-telling mother barely scrape by, Aurora’s mother is unavailable due to addiction, leaving Aurora to spend her family’s extreme wealth on parties and frivolities. The two friends meet a much older guitarist, Jack, and the narrator falls harder and faster into intoxicating love than she ever could have imagined. As the three spend more time together, the narrator realizes that Jack’s boss Minos is a dangerous man, and she might lose Aurora and Jack to him. Told in rich prose, this retelling of the Orpheus myth is a story of first love and self-discovery. Bibliophiles seeking a story driven by gorgeous prose and minimal plot will love All Our Pretty Songs.

All the Wind In the World by Samantha Mabry
Sarah Jac and her “cousin” James live in a post-apocalyptic world where they cut maguey for a living at ranches where they overworked by violent overseers and greedy ranch owners. They are in love, but they know their romance is best kept a secret.  When a horrific accident occurs at the ranch where they work, the pair is forced to flee to the Real Marvelous in Texas, which is allegedly cursed. Sarah Jac wants to keep her head down so that she and James can save money to move east, but their lives change when she is instructed to give horseback riding lessons to the ranch owner’s younger daughter, Bell, and James becomes a groundskeeper at the main house. Bell’s older sister Farrah starts to fall in love with James as a series of plagues and prophecies ravage the Real Marvelous. Can Sarah Jac, James and their love survive? Readers who love reading about the brutality of nature and enjoyed Bone Gap by Laura Ruby will love All the Wind In the World.

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
Devonairre Street is one of the most famous streets in New York City. Everyone believes that anyone who falls in love with a Devonairre Street girl is cursed to die. Even though Lorna’s father died in a bombing several years ago, Lorna and her best friends Delilah, Charlotte, Isla and Cruz refuse to believe in the curse until, unexpectedly, Delilah’s boyfriend dies. Now the older women are not only pressuring the young girls not to fall in love, but also determining what sacrifices must be made to get rid of the curse.  Throughout all of it, Lorna struggles with the fact that her friendship with Cruz might be turning into love. The Careful Undressing of Love is a heartbreaking story of struggling with the tension between tradition and choosing one’s own fate.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Leigh Chen Sanders, who is half Asian and half white, has lived in America her whole life. On the day that Leigh’s mother committed suicide, she kissed her best friend Axel. Afterwards, a large red bird appears to Leigh, speaking in her mother’s voice, and Leigh becomes convinced that the bird is actually her mother. When the bird brings a box of letters and photos from Leigh’s mother’s childhood, Leigh insist on traveling to Taiwan with her father to meet her maternal grandparents, from whom her mother was estranged. As she explores Taiwan, Leigh forges a relationship with her grandparents and uncovers family secrets. Anyone seeking a thoughtful exploration of grief and gorgeous writing will love The Astonishing Color Of After.
A Million Junes  by Emily Henry
Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell lives in a town where magic is alive and cherries taste like the sun, and knows two things for sure. One is that despite the fact that her father passed when she was 8, she will always be his daughter. Two is that if she ever interacts with the Angerts, both families will face serious consequences. The Angert family and June’s family are in a feud, which turns out to also be a generations old curse. Of course when Saul Angert returns to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after spending three years away for unknown reasons, June literally runs into him. Although their families won’t reveal information about what happened between them, June and Saul grow closer, they learn that the magic, ghosts and coywolves of the town are threatening to reveal the truth. Will June be able to choose the right path forward? Anyone looking for a magical realism take on Romeo and Juliet will love A Million Junes.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
Glory O’Brien is just graduating from high school and she has no plans for her life, but she worries she’ll end up like her mother, a photographer who killed herself when Glory was 4 years old. Glory takes photographs and spends time with her best friend, Ellie, who lives at the hippie commune across the street. One night Glory and Ellie decide to mix the ashes of a petrified bat with the beer they’re drinking. Suddenly, every time glory and Ellie look at someone, they see visions of that person’s past and future. Glory learns about a second Civil War that comes about due to misogynistic legislation, so she writes down everything, and spends her days looking through her mother’s old notebooks. Can Glory envision a future for herself, let alone stop the horrific future she sees for the world? Audiences who loves plenty of feminism with their magical realism should check out Glory O’Brien’s History Of the Future.