Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2 Magical Realism in YA and Why You'll Love It -- Plus a Giveaway

Magical realism is one of the most confusing terms that writers come across. It’s one that I’ve seen applied to Compulsion, and I’ll admit I’m both flattered and mystified by that.

I was lucky enough to be at two separate events this week where the term Magical Realism came up. We discussed it briefly at a panel I did at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, and then I was lucky to get to talk about making magic real at a panel with Brenda Chapman, the Oscar winning director and screenwriter for “Brave,” at the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Then I had a conversation with author (and professor) Lisa Maxwell over coffee about how the term has morphed over time.

These days, it’s often used to suggest that a fantasy has some sort of “literary” merit and addresses deeper issues than more “escapist” fantasies. Or it’s used to explore a world where magic is real and show us that world through the eyes of the people who see and experience it, often through an interweaving of history or the past with the present.

In the context of literature, the term refers to the work of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Laura Esquivel, and Isabel Allende. Their fiction has an artistic quality, but it also make us feel that the magical elements could be real—if we just look around in a certain way. The magic isn’t explained, it just exists as if it is ordinary and part of the fabric of life. The characters don’t give it any thought, and we see it through their experience of it. In contrast, the world familiar to the reader is described in poetic and elevated language that makes that seem magical.

That’s why the Heirs of Watson Island series isn’t magical realism. Magic is real on Watson Island, and it’s part of the fabric for the Islanders. But as Barrie comes in from outside, she questions it. She makes the other characters question it. They all begin to reconsider the magic, which becomes the central mystery of the story: how the magic came to be, how it affects the characters, and most importantly, whether they can affect or remove the magic. The characters think about the effects of the magic all the time. They don’t question the existence of magic in general, but they do wonder how and why it was used on the three founding families. (There’s a twist within a twist in the third book that may turn this on its head, but I’ll stand by my assertion—I’m breaking the rules of true magical realism.)

There are other YA writers who stay much closer to the true genre and do a fantastic job:

Francesca Lia Block, Love in the Time of Global Warming
Alice Hoffman, The River King
A.S. King, Please Ignore Vera Dietz
David Levithan, Every Day
Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs
Meg Medina, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
Nova Ren Suma, Imaginary Girls
Leslye Walton, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Kat Winters, The Cure for Dreaming

The basic elements:

  • Set in the real world. 
  • Uses a poetic aspect to the narrative that makes the ordinary magical. 
  • Contains an element of the magical or surreal that exists as the reality of the characters and isn’t explained. 
  • The magic is fully integrated within the story world. 
  • The magic in the book invites us to look for magic within our own realities. 

About Martina Boone

Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She’s the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, books one and two in the romantic Southern Gothic trilogy, the Heirs of Watson Island. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers site, the CompulsionForReading.com book drive campaign for underfunded schools and libraries, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site devoted to the discovery and celebration of young adult literature and encouraging literacy through YA series. Locally in her home state of Virginia, she is on the board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, helping to promote literacy and adult education initiatives.


The launch of Persuasion is SIX days away. Can you believe it? The fabulous Jaime Arnold of Rockstar Blog tours is doing a blog tour the next couple of weeks with a lot of fun interviews and content, plus a SUPER BIG giveaway.

Personalized Compulsion AND Persuasion
Signed complete Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
Heirs of Watson Island charm bracelet
Jar of Sweet Potato mustard to go on your hot dogs! : ) 

To start the blog tour and enter the giveaway, head over here:

Fun Stuff

I had a fascinating interview with MTV, in which I was asked some questions that gave me some revelations about myself, about Barrie, and about the Heirs of Watson Island series. If you're curious, it's here:


  1. I have noticed myself that the term seems to be a bit slippery, and people use it in different ways. However, as you described it seems to be the official definition. Which means the manuscript I'm peddling as magical realism probably really is NOT magical realism at all! I have read at least 3 of the books on the list you mentioned, and can see where those fit in with the official definition. :)


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