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Defining Genre

Books that feature magical realism may be classified as either realistic or fantasy fiction.  They are not quite, however, either. Though threads of magic run through these tales, the world is real and the issues addressed are real.

Realismo mágico was popularized by Latin American authors during the eras immediately following the Cuban Revolution.  Through the genre, there were able to express socio-political commentary that highlighted the differences in perspectives between those in power and those who were marginalized. Today, authors continue to use this style of writing to introduce readers to important issues of the day.

While fantasy takes readers into places and situations that are imaginative and magical, magical realism is different in that it features:

  • highly detailed real-world settings, sometimes referred to as the marvelous real
  • unexplained but normalized magic
  • elements of metafiction allowing readers to enter into the story
  • social and/or political commentary

The Classics

  • Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915 pre-movement)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (1989)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2018)
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2019)


Can YA novels be classified as magical realism?

While there are a number of titles published previously that can be re-classified as magical realism, a growing number of authors of color are using the genre to raise awareness of issues of social justice.  

Older YA Novels 
Reclassified as Magical Realism

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

The series focuses on more than good vs. evil.  Commentary on social issues such as racism and education thread their way throughout.  The world of magic is not other, but simply exists alongside the real world.

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book uses the "marvelously real" world of circus performance to highlight the impact of hyper competativeness and rivalry in our world.

Heretics Daughter by Kathleen Kent

True historical events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials are draw attention to a daughter's difficult relationship to her mother. A touch of magic allows for resolution, though not a happy ending.

The Book Thief by by Markus Zusak

Amid the tragedy of the Holocaust and the complicit role of everyday Germans in it's execution, Death is personified and is haunted by a young girl.

Magical Realism in New YA 

  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi (American immigration)
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily E.R. Pan (suicide)
  • Bone Game by Laura Ruby (empathy)
  • Everybody Sees Ants by A.S. King (bullying)
  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina (identity)
  • I Crawl Through It by A.S. King (school gun violence)
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (death)
  • Pet by Akwaeki Emexi (identiry, justice)
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater​ (poverty, privilege)
  • A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma (child abuse)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar by Leslye Walton (discrimination, loss)
  • Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (sexual assault)
  • Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (grief)
  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (gender, class, race)
  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo​ (equal opportunity)
  • Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi


Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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