Magical Realism…What is it, really?

Today I wanted to share my first discussion post, hooray! This is something I would like to do more often as a way to diversify my content and interact with other bloggers with more in-depth discussions about various bookish topics. In this post I want to discuss a genre of books that I have been noticing more in the bookish community. It certainly seems to be getting more attention, although that may just be my perception and interest that causes me to see it more. I want to discuss the genre of magical realism. What is magical realism? Is it its own genre? A subset of fiction or fantasy? And most importantly, what makes it different than science fiction or fantasy books? I did some research to see if I could clarify some of these questions, but I wanted to write this blog post as a discussion to see if any of you had an opinion or clarification on the matter!

I became more aware of the genre of magical realism when I read The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry. The title of the book is linked to my review if you want to take a look. This beautifully written book follows Natalie Cleary through an immersive story that contains parallel universes and time travel elements infused with Native American culture and history. The writing is beautiful and poetic and most of the time you are not really sure what is real and what’s not. There are certainly magical elements, but they all take place in the world all of us (readers) are familiar with. In this case, I agreed with the label of “magical realism” because it didn’t really fit with anything else. It wasn’t really fantasy (a different world) or science-fiction (a future world). What other elements of this book make it magical realism? Can we categorize other books in this genre?

After perusing the internet, I found an explanation that seemed to work with this genre. I found it on Wikipedia, and the page explains it pretty well! It describes magical realism as an area of fiction that “portrays magical or unreal elements as a natural part in an otherwise realistic or mundane environment.” (Wikipedia).

The biggest difference between fantasy/science fiction and magical realism is that the magical elements of these books are accepted as reality in the mundane world that all of us are familiar with. Fantasy and science fiction speculate what could be, in magical realism, it simply is.

“Magical realism is not speculative and does not conduct thought experiments. Instead, it tells its stories from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality from the one we call objective.” (Writing-world.com)

While I think this clears up my general confusion about how to define magical realism, I still think the true definition is a fluid one, and there are many books that people probably consider to be a blend of fantasy, science-fiction and magical realism. Another observation I made from reading these books is that many of them seem to have a poetic, lyrical quality to the writing. I don’t think this is necessarily a requirement to categorize a book as ‘magical realism’ but it is certainly interesting. Another trend I’ve noticed is that many of these books usually have me asking, ‘what is even going on right now?’  I think many readers are wary of this genre because it often comes across as overly lyrical and just downright confusing. However, I think that these books are arguably some of the most creative concepts I’ve read in a while and discovering other YA magical realism books has definitely piqued my interest in the genre.

Below I discuss which books I’ve read which I consider to fall in this genre, books on my TBR and books I found while scouring the internet for a clearer definition of this genre. If I have read and reviewed the book, the title will be linked to my review. For the books on my TBR, the covers (or titles) are linked to the respective Goodreads page. Also, I may be wrong about categorizing some of these books! Like I mentioned above, I’m not 100% clear on what qualifies as magical realism but it is a growing genre that I am eager to explore.

Books I’ve Read:

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The Love that Split the World– Emily Henry

The Raven Cycle- Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys #1 Review)

I know TRC is also arguably a fantasy, but I think the fact that it takes place in the world we are familiar with makes it seem like a good fit for magical realism. Blue and her Raven Boys are on a magical quest in a very normal world.

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A Monster Calls– Patrick Ness

This is a different type of magical realism because nothing magical actually happened in this book, right? Was it just Conor’s imagination, or something more? The fact that we can’t answer this question with 100% certainty is what makes it magical realism, in my opinion.

Books I Own (or am soon to get via Overdrive):

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Every Day – David Levithan

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

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Vassa in the Night- Sarah Porter (via Overdrive)

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Books On My TBR:

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender– Leslye Walton

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

Wink Poppy Midnight– April Genevieve Tucholke

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

When The Moon Was Ours–  Anna-Marie McLemore 

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

A Million Junes– Emily Henry

Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations.

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

Books I added to my TBR after researching the genre:

Bone Gap– Laura Ruby

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

The Cost of all Things– Maggie Lehrman

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars in this thought-provoking and brilliantly written debut that is part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama.

What would you pay to cure your heartbreak? Banish your sadness? Transform your looks? The right spell can fix anything…. When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy.

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September Girls– Bennett Madison

When Sam’s dad whisks him and his brother off to a remote beach town for the summer, he’s all for it– at first. Sam soon realizes, though, that this place is anything but ordinary. Time seems to slow down around here, and everywhere he looks, there are beautiful blond girls. Girls who seem inexplicably drawn to him.

Then Sam meets DeeDee, one of the Girls, and she’s different from the others. Just as he starts to fall for her, she pulls away, leaving him more confused than ever. He knows that if he’s going to get her back, he’ll have to uncover the secret of this beach and the girls who live here.

Do you think its also a coincidence that all of these books have absolutely stunning covers?! With these new additions to my TBR, I hope to dedicate a month to reading these books sometime in the new year to explore this genre further.

 

What do you think of this genre? Do you have any books you recommend for me?

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Magical Realism…What is it, really?”

  1. Great post, Alex! I haven’t read very many magical realism, because one of the things you talked about, I never know what the heck is actually going on. I’m never sure if it what is happening is real or just in their minds. And the stories themselves tend to move at a much slower pace than I prefer. However, I do plan on reading some more soon and hoping that I end up enjoying them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. great post! though maybe magical realism and urban fantasy are more or less alike? or is the magical realism just really in someone’s mind? I don’t know if I’ve read any books from that genre yet, to be honest :O

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Alright ^_^ They don’t make things easy for us, do they? haha coming up with new genre’s all over the place. But, it’s kinda nice that there is expansion and all that. I also noticed that some authors tend to go back, using the old genres, I think it both great.

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  3. I loved this post 💖
    This definitely gives me a better understanding of what magical realism is and it’s actually one of my favourite genres 😊 I’ve read the Raven Boys and A Monster Calls and I can highly recommend The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender for its outstanding magical realism 😊

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  4. I love this discussion post Alex. Magical realism is a genre I only discovered fairly recently but one I have completely fallen in love with. Funnily enough it took me a while to class The Love That Split the World as magical realism. For the longest time I kept thinking of it as YA contemporary but then I started thinking more on it and realised ‘no, this is a magical realism book’. Either way it was so beautifully written and I loved the characters so that one is definitely a favourite of mine! 😀
    Also I can’t even begin to express how much I recommend Bone Gap and When the Moon Was Ours. Of all the magical realism books I’ve read so far, which isn’t many I’ll admit, those two are my ultimate favourites. So if you enjoy magical realism I’d start with those two because you won’t be disappointed!

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  5. Great post Alex! Really informative.Most of the books you listed are on my TBR list, especially the Raven Cycle and Winky Poppy Midnight. I also like your view on magical realism and how it is a genre on its own,

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  6. Omg! EPIC post Alex! I am a Magical Realism lover but I am also the first to admit that it isn’t the easiest to digest & plenty of times has left me scratching my head with a “what does this even mean?” 😂😂😂 yet I can’t stop picking up books with MR in them. I LOVED A Monster Calls, When The Moon Was Ours, and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I’m intrigued by A Million Junes, adding to my TBR 😃💕 very informative post that I think many will appreciate since it’s a tough genre to describe 😉

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    1. Thank you!! 🙂 I really enjoy this genre too, but am often hesitant to pick it up because I have to be in the mood to really think about the plot. I’m glad you recommend Ava Lavender and When the Moon was Ours, those are at the top of my list! I was a fan of Emily Henry’s writing in The Love that Split the World so I am also excited to A Million Junes 🙂

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  7. This is such a great discussion topic! Way to come up with a perfect topic on your first try. =)

    I took a class on magical realism in my master’s program, and the definition we settled on was pretty much the one that you found on Wikipedia. It’s people in our mundane, natural world encountering unnatural/odd/magical things, and not being surprised or horrified by them. “Okay,” the characters will say, “Juanita was so brokenhearted that she sobbed herself into a weeping willow tree. What’s for dinner?” It makes sense to them that these odd things are possible; they don’t question it.

    This is as opposed to paranormal, in which people in our mundane world might learn (for example) that vampires exist, and be surprised and scared (or turned on, depending). In magical realism, a character’s response to learning some impossible creature exists would be, “Oh, okay.” The impossible, to them, is as natural and not-alarming as the changing of the seasons.

    For that reason, I’d say that The Raven Boys isn’t magical realism. Sure, there’s magic and psychics and stuff in our mundane world, but not everyone believes in magic, and the psychics are treated by some as charlatans. In magical realism, the psychics would’ve just been accepted as a fact of life in their world.

    That opinion is just based on this one class I took, though, so take everything I just said with a grain of salt. =)

    I’m horrified to see I haven’t read any of the other books you referenced, though several of them are on my TBR. I’ll have to get on that!

    (Thanks for letting me ramble at you/I’m sorry for rambling at you!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! So, I didn’t take a class in magical realism and definitely understand where you are coming from. I actually struggled with whether or not I wanted to include The Raven Boys in the post, but I also feel like its not 100% urban fantasy either. The dreamy setting and writing reminded me of other magical realism books I have read. There also was a certain amount of acceptance of all the magical things that happened in the series, like Ronan never really questioning where his powers came from, and the crew spending time in Cabeswater like its not this crazy, magical place. Anyway, its definitely not like other fantasies I’ve read but definitely see your point of it not really being true magical realism, either. Regardless, I loved the series 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to shove books into categories, huh? I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with it!

        Yeah, Raven Boys isn’t urban enough for urban fantasy, but “rural fantasy” isn’t exactly a thing. Maybe it should be?

        I guess what matters most is how each reader personally experiences and enjoys the books, not what label is put on them. And heck yes to loving the Raven Boys to pieces. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. No, but I added it to my TBR. I waited for Vassa on Overdrive too. You may love it. It has been hit and miss. It’s very out there. Very.
        I was confused a lot of the time, but I would recommend reading the Vasilissa the beautiful (fairy tale) first so you understand what is going on. I didn’t so all the references were lost on me. Ola pointed me to oldrussia.net (?) I think and it had the fairy tale with Baba Yaga. If I had read it before, I might have enjoyed Vassa more…I think…

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