Flights of Fancy: Magical Realism in YA | SLJ Spotlight

Two new young adult titles that blur the boundaries of realism and fantasy.
Magical realism has its roots in Latin American literature and has continued to branch out to young adult books. In Pan’s debut, Leigh experiences the world through colors and believes that her dead mother has been transformed into a bird. Leno’s latest centers around ­Georgina, who is anxiously waiting to feel the magic that all of the women in her family receive by their 18th birthday. The lines between reality and fantasy blur in these offerings for teens.

redstarLeno, Katrina. Summer of Salt. 272p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062493620.

Gr 8 Up –The Fernweh family has lived on the island of By-the-Sea—where the two smells you can always be sure of are “salt and magic”—for generations. Almost 18-year-old twins Georgina and Mary are the latest in a long line of Fernweh women with magical gifts ranging from teleportation to potion-making (the sisters’ mother Penelope can brew a mean hangover cure). Every summer, By-the-Sea also hosts 300-year-old Annabella, an Eastern Seaborn Flicker bird who may be a Fernweh herself, and the influx of tourists who come to see her. But when Annabella is found violently murdered, suddenly the island doesn’t seem so magical, and more than one dark secret must be uncovered. A magical realist YA book is still a relatively rare sight, and Leno expertly crafts this example of the genre with atmospheric prose and subtle feminism. The real heart of the novel is the exceptionally well-written female characters and relationships. Leno’s way of writing Georgina’s blossoming first love with island visitor Prue Lowry is so sweet and purely devoid of the “problem novel” overtones that accompany so many LGBTQ+ relationships in fiction. Her examination of the trauma of sexual assault and the “imperfect victim” is sophisticated and complex. VERDICT A necessary novel that is, at the same time, so enjoyable to read that teens will have to fight the urge to crawl into the pages. Buy multiple copies.–Ann Santori, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

redstarPan, Emily X.R. The Astonishing Color of After. 480p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316463997.

Gr 9 Up –Leigh comes home to the unimaginable—her mother, who has always been depressed, has committed suicide. As her grief swells, Leigh believes in her fog that her mother has not died but her mother’s spirit has now turned into a vivid bird who brings Leigh gifts, both physical and in the form of memories. Trying to put all the pieces together, her father and Leigh travel to Taiwan, where her mother immigrated from to the United States after meeting Leigh’s father. She has never met her mother’s family, and does not understand why her mother never spoke to Leigh about her parents or her childhood. Seeking answers for these questions and more, Leigh’s father leaves her in Taiwan to stay with her grandparents. The present-day is woven with flashback memories; Pan’s writing takes readers on a journey filled with so much emotion, color, and such well-developed characters with a touch of magic, readers will come to the ending drained and fulfilled at the same time. An exploration of grief and what it means to accept a loved one’s suicide, this book’s lyrical and heart-rending prose invites readers to take flight into their own lives and examine their relationships. VERDICT Pan’s debut novel is not to be missed. Give this to fans of magical realism titles and any reader who is battling grief.–Stephanie Charlefour, formerly of Wixom Public Library, MI

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