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.

  • September Girls

    by Bennett Madison

    Seventeen-year-old Sam reluctantly joins his father and older brother on a summer trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The one saving grace of the otherwise unremarkable beach town: there is an unusually large population of unusually beautiful girls who are unusually drawn to awkward Sam. This edgy coming-of-age story alternates between Sam’s point of view and the chorus of girls.

  • 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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  • Bone Gap

    by Laura Ruby

    Bone Gap, Illinois is a town full of quirky people, but even by their standards, Finn O’Sullivan is considered odd. He doesn’t really look at people, so he can’t recall faces. When Roza, a beautiful and troubled young woman, vanishes from Bone Gap, Finn is the only witness — and he can’t describe her abductor. As the townspeople search for her, multiple voices mine the past to unravel the mysteries of Bone Gap and figure out what happened to Roza. (Of note: Bone Gap is a finalist for a 2015 National Book Award.)

  • The Weight of Feathers

    by Anna-Marie McLemore

    The Palomas and the Corbeaus are rival families of circus performers involved in a generations-old feud. The Palomas may or may not be mermaids and the Corbeaus may or may not sprout feathers, but one thing is certain: they hate each other. So when teenagers Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau become inextricably bonded, their star-crossed romance threatens the order of things.

  • I Crawl Through It

    by A.S. King

    Four high school seniors develop extraordinary skills in order to come to terms with their tragic pasts. One builds an invisible helicopter. Another, obsessed with biology, splits herself in two. The third discovers that lying makes her hair grow, and the fourth turns herself inside out. With the specter of the Columbine and Newtown tragedies weighing on them, these four unreliable narrators build a fantasy world that inures them to the chaos of the real one.

  • The Art of Disappearing

    by Elena Perez

    When Delia dreams the death of a classmate the night before it happens, she’s labeled a freak and shunned from the popular crowd. Now, finding her place among the outcasts, she grapples with her newly realized “gift”, questioning whether she is seeing the future, or actually creating it.

  • 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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  • A Song for Ella Gray

    by David Almond

    Award-winning author David Almond reimagines the myth of Orpheus in a modern-day setting. Ella and Claire are best friends grappling with the growing pains of being teenagers. Everything changes the day they meet the strange and irresistible Orpheus — who falls as hard for Ella as she does for him. This evocative story explores first loves, lost chances, and the idea that life may not end with death.