Add a Little Magic
Much like the rich tradition of magical realism across the Caribbean and the Americas, the literary use of magic of all forms in everyday settings is alive and well across the world. This list brings together classics as well as brand new titles such as Bruja Born. Ranked from a pinch to a cup of magic, there is a novel for everyone on this list.
The Temple of Familiar by Alice Walker
A loose follow-up to Alice Walker’s masterpiece, A Color Purple, this novel tells a widely different version of the past. This novel imagines the beginning of humanity as a place with animal companions and past lives. Told through the lives of a reincarnating goddess, this story tells an alternate history of Africa from ancient times, through European invasion, to the American slave diaspora. Unique and unforgettable, this novel depicts strong women of color whose lives are irrevocably connected to their past(s).
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman’s famous and relatively short novel is very different than its movie adaptation. In Practical Magic, we never truly know if women of the Owens family possess magical powers or just want the people around them to believe they do. Their hometown thinks so, and the younger generations distance themselves from the title of “witch." This quick read is funny and sweet -- a great beach read that doesn’t make you think too hard. Many of Hoffman’s novels follow suit. For further reading, check out the 2017 prequel, The Rules of Magic.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
The first novel by the author of What is Not Yours is Not Yours, this haunting tale draws much from the author’s own life. The main protagonist, Jess, lives between the two worlds of her parents -- Nigeria and England. Because of this, she never quite fits in and soon adopts an imaginary friend named Titiola, or TillyTilly. What first seems like the harmless imagination of a young girl soon turns sinister as TillyTilly’s powers and control over Jess strengthen. This novel will keep you guessing until the end and is not for the faint of heart.
The Witch of Little Italy by Suzanne Palmieri
A sweet tale about coming home again, The Witch of Little Italy tells the story of Elle, who returns to her Italian family’s Bronx apartment building when she finds out she is pregnant. Elle has major memory gaps and must rediscover her lost past with the people she shared it with. Premonition, a magical garden, and a bit of the paranormal pepper this story. It’s more cozy than creepy--but definitely mixed with sadness.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Harvard grad student Connie stumbles across her family heritage while she is researching her doctoral thesis. What she finds is more than she bargains for, and she quickly realizes she knows very little about her family’s past. This novel weaves Connie’s search in the 1990’s with her family’s life in the 1690's. We learn more about witchcraft in the the time of the Salem witch trials. Most of all, Howe seems to imply that there is always danger when one is a woman.
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
Another excellent thriller from the author of The Winter People, this frightening novel tells the story of two sisters who are nothing alike. Sylvie and Rose live in a rural Vermont hotel in the 1950’s and constantly fight for attention from their mother and father. Life changes when the girls' long lost Roma grandmother visits them. Soon, Rose believes her sister is a monster and intends to prove it. This story of real life monsters is tragic and can be very scary, but it does possess just the right amount of magic and keeps you guessing. Spanning the lives of three generations of women, this story is as layered as it is compelling.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
A modern classic for a reason, this Man Booker Prize winner tells the story of the Indian children born between midnight and one in the morning the day of Partition. The event would divide a country of nearly 400 million and lead to horrible violence and decades of tension between the newly formed countries of South Asia. These special children develop unique magical powers and connect telepathically through the main character, Saleem. A beautiful metaphor for a horrible historical event, this is a well written, passionate novel that will also teach you something.
Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova
This novel is the brand new sequel to the highly rated Labyrinth Lost. The novel pours a whole cup of magic over reality with beautiful results. Lula Mortiz uses her powers to bring back her boyfriend after a horrible bus crash. Lula soon learns the consequences of her actions when Maks isn’t the only one who comes back to life. Part of the Brooklyn Brujas series, (for more context, read in order) this novel is good enough to stand alone and introduces the genre to a modern family of strong Latinx women.