Enchanting the Everyday: The Best Magical Realism Books for YA Readers

by Laura Buchwald

Photo credit: Karin Dreyer, Blend Images/Getty Images

We’ve been hearing a lot about magical realism lately in books, movies, and other art forms. The term was first used many years ago to describe a literary tradition that began in Latin America. It may sound contradictory — magic and reality co-existing in the same realm — but that contradiction is exactly what makes it so much fun to read!

People often confuse magical realism with other genres, like fantasy and supernatural, and there are some similarities. The big difference is in the world the author creates. Stories of fantasy, science fiction, and the paranormal introduce us to alternate universes with their own sets of rules. In magical realism, the ordinary and extraordinary intertwine in a reality-based world. Most characters are human beings as real as you and me, but their stories are interwoven with elements of magic and mythology. A good writer will blend the two so seamlessly that the reader — and often the characters — will easily suspend disbelief, will accept that, sometimes, magic can seep into our everyday, rational world.

The following are just a few recent examples of our favorite works of magical realism.

  • These Bodies Between Us

    by Sarah Van Name

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    Four teenage girls each have reasons for wanting to disappear. So, when they meet up on a North Carolina beach in the summer, they get to work learning to turn invisible. Much to their surprise, they succeed. But becoming invisible comes with challenges — some that may be permanent. This haunting magical realism novel is the must-read YA book of the summer!

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  • Promchanted

    by Morgan Matson

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    Stella and her friends go to Disneyland before the prom and accidentally stumble into the Sleeping Beauty story. Their arrival throws everything off course, and the teens must figure out how to fix the storyline and get home — without falling in love with each other. Disney enthusiasts and fairy tale lovers will enjoy this mashup of modern life and fairy tale magic.

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  • Off the Page

    by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

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    Delilah’s new boyfriend, Oliver, is straight out of a fairy tale — no, really, he’s a storybook prince come to life. Things are going well enough for the high school couple but not so for Edgar, the real live boy who had to take Oliver’s place in the book he came from. This fast-paced, funny novel from bestselling author Picoult and her daughter, Van Leer, redefines what it means to live happily ever after.

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  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

    by Leslye Walton

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    Ava Lavender is born into a family of women with a history of heartbreak. She was also born with a pair of wings — which makes some people believe she’s an angel. As the narrator of this haunting, lyrical tale, Ava pieces together her family history while trying to navigate the world as best she can despite her extraordinary circumstances.

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  • I Loved You In Another Life

    by David Arnold

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    Evan and Shosh don’t know each other, but they have something in common. Both teens have suffered a tremendous loss, and both can hear a soft, singing voice that brings them together. Their love story spans centuries — their souls reconnecting time and again throughout history. Anyone who believes in the enduring power of love needs to read this gorgeous novel.

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  • Bitter

    by Akwaeke Emezi

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    Bitter has been granted a golden opportunity to hone her skills at a prestigious school in Lucille. In a town rife with social unrest and injustice, Bitter faces a difficult choice of either immersing herself in her art or joining the fight for justice. As she grapples with her dual identity, she must also consider the high stakes and potential sacrifices involved. In this electrifying story of a young artist torn between her passion and her principles in the lead-up to a revolution.

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  • The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne

    by Shannon Takaoka

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    Gracie feels like her life is out of control. Her grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease, her parents got divorced, and she doesn’t fit in at school. When Gracie finds her grandmother’s journal, she starts writing an alternate version of her life, and it comes true. As Gracie uses the journal to ace tests and make friends, she also begins to question the validity of her budding romance with her next-door neighbor. She must decide if using the journal is worth the loss of authentic relationships.

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  • The Heartbreak Bakery

    by A. R. Capetta

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    After getting dumped, Syd accidentally creates magical brownies that cause everyone who eats them to break up. Horrified that the brownies cause so much heartbreak in the LGBTQ community, Syd desperately looks for a solution. Thankfully, the cute delivery boy has a tasty solution to the problem. This sweet novel serves up magical realism with a side dish of romance.

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  • Exit West

    by Mohsin Hamid

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    In a country on the verge of civil war, a chance encounter brings two young people together. As chaos engulfs their city, they discover rumors about mystical doors that offer a risky escape to distant lands. With violence escalating, Nadia and Saeed are left with no option but to leave everything behind and seek out one of these fabled doors. What lies beyond as they step through, only time will tell.

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  • Flirting with Fate

    by J. C. Cervantes

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    When Ava’s grandmother passes away, her special blessing misses Ava and lands on a stranger instead. Ava must befriend the boy and reclaim the blessing to help her grandmother’s spirit cross over. If you enjoy this adorable rom-com, check out this author’s other magical realism novel, Always Isn’t Forever.

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  • Grave Things Like Love

    by Sara Bennett Wealer

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    Elaine’s family owns a funeral home that everyone says is haunted. She has always ignored the comments, but a seance with the cute new boy in town reveals that the rumors could be true. But with her attention divided between her new crush and a growing attraction to her oldest friend, Elaine doesn’t have time to chase ghosts. This contemporary YA novel has just enough paranormal elements to make it an excellent choice for readers who want a few chills with their romance.

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  • Cursed Cruise

    by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

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    In this follow-up to Horror Hotel, the teenage ghost-hunting crew boards a cruise ship with a ghoulish history. But what starts as a bid to keep their growing social media fanbase happy quickly turns into a nightmare when they get trapped in a time warp, and one of the team vanishes. This bone-chilling novel combines teenage influencers and paranormal elements into an unputdownable story.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2024.