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

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.

no no 9780593646175 These Bodies Between Us by Sarah Van Name

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!

9781368095570 Promchanted by Morgan Matson

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.

9780553535594 Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

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.

9780763665661 The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

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.

9780593524787 I Loved You In Another Life by David Arnold

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.

9781536228786 The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne by Shannon Takaoka

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.

9781536230444 The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta

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.

9780593404478 Flirting with Fate by J. C. Cervantes

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.

9780593703557 Grave Things Like Love by Sara Bennett Wealer

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.

9780593649381 Cursed Cruise by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

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.

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

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