Good morning, book people! I’m at a Starbucks working this morning, soaking up the yuppie-artistic vibe of Harvard Square. How about you?
In slightly sad Peta & Joe news this morning, I had an epiphany: We have lived in the US so long that Starbucks has become a way of measurement for us. Over the weekend, I had a rather heavy parcel of papers to mail–43 oz’ worth. Joe’s response? “Wow, that’s more than two ventis! Or almost a trenta and an half!”
And now for something completely different…
First up, literary agency Dystel & Goderich is entering the e-publishing game–sort of. Rather than becoming a publisher (as a few other agencies are doing), they will:
facilitate e-publishing for those of clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. (via @lkblackburne)
Next on the docket, YA Highway has an excellent post on “building a heart bridge” to your reader. It’s a great follow-up to #YAsaves. Very quick read, but long-lingering thoughts.
Stuck for time to write this summer? Over at Literary Rambles, Casey shares how she’s carving out time to write over the break. She also has a great-looking book giveaway. Head on over to win a copy of:
- Lauren Oliver’s Delirium
- Kimberly Sterling’s Desires of the Dead
- Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss
- Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Queen
…by becoming a follower (of Casey’s blog, though I love followers/subscribers too!) and leave a comment before July 9th.
Over at Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson has a quick read on riding the cultural zeitgeist–when agents start seeing submissions that aren’t on-trend, but center on a certain theme anyway. Are they seeing the birth of a trend? Maybe.
Finally, NPR has an interesting read on using computers as part of classroom learning. I find this particularly intriguing since the kidlet is learning to count with an iPhone app we play together-he simply can’t get enough of it, and he’s really glomming onto the concept of numbers (eight is his favorite). (via Scholastic’s On Our Minds)
And for some Monday morning fun (which I could use, since web goblins ate half this post the first time around), The Onion, America’s finest news source, is lobbying for an #onionpulitzer. There are lots of great videos of support on YouTube already, here are two I particularly love: Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline) and Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras). Two more I’d love to see? Old Spice Man Isaiah Mustafa and George Takei (preferably together).
Good morning, book people! I’m wrapping up a big writing project today & Mir & I are properly recovered now (thanks to a series of naps), so I’ll be back to some semblance of normality on the interwebs this week.
Sad news this morning–children’s novelist Diana Wynne Jones died early Saturday morning (UK time). If you haven’t read one of her novels, you need to get out your kindle/nook, or head down to the bookstore today. My favorites (so far)–How’s Moving Castle (different, and better than, the movie), and the Chrestomanci series, particularly The Charmed Lives of Christopher Chant.) There aren’t really words to describe this post about Diana (and if you have ever read her, you know that she is Diana, because reading her is like reading an old friend) by Neil Gaiman, except to say it made me cry.
Emma Bull over at Tor.com also remembers Diana, a woman who,
“told stories the way some people eat ice cream: eagerly, with delight and no self-consciousness. She told them about her family in a way that made them familiar characters in my imaginary world, and she talked about her characters as if they were family.” (via Neil Gaiman)
Here’s a full obituary about Diana from The Guardian, with all the concrete details that entails. It’s a marvelous and detailed essay by Christopher Priest, though, so go here rather than Wikipedia if you’ve never read Diana/want to know more.
Sometime soon–perhaps this week, perhaps next–I’ll post about Diana’s books, and why I love them. She has a new book coming out, Earwig and the Witch, in the UK and Japan, later this year.
The Rejectionist has a short post (as in 100 words sort of short) on qualities that do not a strong female character make. It’s a blitzingly short read, but an essential one.
“Amanda has created such a fresh, unique, fabulous world, and I am absolutely dead set on bringing it to the screen without compromising any of that,” Ms. Tatchell said by telephone from Vancouver, Canada.
The three novels — “Switched,” “Torn” and “Ascend” — follow an emotionally damaged high school girl, Wendy Everly, who realizes that she may not be human. With the help of a boy, Finn Holmes, she discovers the mysterious world of Trylle, which is populated by beautiful trolls.
I’ve heard a bit of griping about Amanda Hocking’s success, so here are a couple of things to remember about her–yes, she’s sold a million copies over nine novels. And yes, she’s made around two million dollars. But she has put in a lot of work, and has hired freelance editors for her books. So while she may’ve been on-trend with her novels, there’s definitely more to her success than that.
And finally, an interview with Diana, and a study project. I love the opening to this first one–the way she says, “Do come in,” makes me feel like I’m cracking a new novel.
On the Miyazaki adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle (spoilers)
Diana Wynne Jones author study, by Raarbecca, part of a school project. See if you catch the snippet of Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack a couple of minutes in.
ETA 9:58am: US details for Earwig & the WitchRead More
Animal stories are everywhere. Many classic tales are animal stories, from Aesop’s Fables through Charlotte’s Web. Yet there’s an idea in kids’ publishing, out there on blogs, in classes and speeches, that animal fiction is no longer marketable, and has gone the way of the cute little bunnies in Watership Down.
Despite the naysaying, though, animal stories continue to show up in bookstores–Erin Hunter’s Seekers and Warriors, Kathy Appelt’s The Underneath, and Brian Jacques’ latest Insert-Redwall-Clone-Title-Here are jockeying for shelf space alongside more so-called middle grade popular fiction. So what is it about animal fiction that sets industry folk on edge?
Many classic animal tales, particularly Victorian stories, follow what I think of as the Beatrix Potter/Peter Rabbit paradigm: they blend the cuteness of anthropomorphic animals (usually woodland creatures) with starker realities, as if the fact that Peter wears a smart robin’s egg waistcoat makes it more palatable for his father to have ended up in Mr. McGregor’s stew pot. In the original Redwall , the war-like tendencies of the sparrows (sparra), the snake, Asmodeus, eating characters, and the concepts each represent are balanced by the fuzzy-wuzziness of the mice, badgers, et. al and their Arthurian style honor code.
In some cases, anthropomorphic animals serve a particular purpose. Jane Yolen’s picture book series How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight/Go to the Dentist/Go to School/&c? (illustrated by Mark Teague) puts dinosaurs in place of children, giving parents and children a way to discuss everyday activities and rules and express frustration. They also play to a child’s desire to be like a favorite character–Let’s brush our teeth like Stegosaurus!–in a way a book about another “every kid” may not.
Other times, animal characters acting like people provide more fun, accessible illustrations and stories. This isn’t to say stories have to have animal characters to be fun and relatable, but animal characters can certainly add an appreciable layer to an already strong story. In Edel Rodriguez’ Sergio Saves The Game, Sergio, a penguin, dreams of becoming a soccer star, but is woefully inept on the field. Taking on the keeper’s role, he works through his frustrations and practices until he ultimately saves the day, keeping the big bad seagulls from scoring a critical goal. Another penguin story, Tacky the Penguin (Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger), follows the aptly named Hawaiian-shirted Tacky, who is disliked by the other penguins for his loud habits and garish dress sense. But when hunters come, it’s Tacky who scares them off, and the other, stuffier penguins come to recognize the value of being an individual, and appreciating each other quirks and all.
In a similar vein to Yolen’s Dinosaur series, the animal character helps set up a distance between the reader’s life and the protagonist’s life. This sort of distance can be very important in issues books–it allows kids and parents to read and discuss problems, like belonging and bullying, without the frustration, or setting up possible feelings of inadequacy and the like.
Sometimes, though, the Beatrix Potter Complex goes a little far–animals in people clothing, eating people food, and acting cutesy merely for the sake of cuteness can be a warning sign of other problems in a manuscript, picture book and middle grade alike. In a long lost piece by a kids’ editor, the described a particularly frightening anthropomorphic chicken manuscript she’d received, handwritten on hot pink paper. The story? A little fried chicken drumstick is lonely and only wants to be eaten and loved, eventually finding home and happiness at a local KFC. Peculiar, slightly morbid stories aside, though, there are other, more tangible–and fixable–problems in many animal stories, such as:
- Cuteness carrying the story
- Two dimensional characters/stereotypical characters–fat, hoarding pigs, empty-headed sheep etc.
- No real story, merely walking through a jungle/farm/zoo setting or characters comparing notes
- Characters with no flaws/relatability
- Characters are too adult
- Stories are preachy or moralizing
Animals With Human Traits? Or Humans With Animal Traits?
As anyone who’s ever picked up a mythology book knows, history is rife with stories of half-animal, half-human creatures, from centaurs and minotaurs through Anansi, the West African/Carribean spider-god. In these stories, the lines are often blurred between animal and human characteristics, and the characters are usually imperfect or have a not-quite-fatal flaw. Stories are rarely cute, yet rarely moral in a religious or morality play style way. Interestingly–perhaps because of the sense of “other” or “not-like-me”–animal/human characters are often deeper, and more fascinating, than a reader might expect. Unlike other animal related stories, these books are not relegated to the picture book and middle grade set; most are YA or adult lit.
Examples of Human/Animal/Mythical characters in fiction
- Anansi in Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys
- Coyote & Raven in Charles DeLint’s Newford series
- Mermaids in Kathryn Lasky’s Hannah: Daughters of the Sea
Do you write animal fiction? Do you read animal stories? Or do you find them irritating? Can you think of any good examples?
Yesterday, I posted about Magic Realism and promised a reading list of novels. It’s important to remember, though, that in YA, Magic Realism is snuggled right up against the fantasy border–meaning some of the books on this list may be a bit less realistic than the adult style (Paul Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende). A few, such as Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife and Alice Hoffman’s The River King, are adult novels that may pique the interest of mature YA readers.
1. CITY OF THE BEASTS, Isabel Allende
Combine a magical world, mystical shamanic adventure, and feisty and eccentric characters with a fast-paced eco-thriller and you have Allende’s first book for young adults. Set in the lush and treacherous Amazonian rain forest, this is the story of 15-year-old Alexander Cold and 12-year-old Nadia Santos. While his mother is in Texas for chemotherapy treatment, Alex is spending the summer with his emotionally distant grandmother, who has been hired to find and write an article on the “Beast” that has been terrorizing the jungle. Partially funded by a suspicious businessman, the party includes a self-centered professor, several photographers, a government doctor and soldiers, a few native Indians, and a guide, C‚sar Santos, who brings along his daughter. Alex and Nadia become good friends, and together discover their own inner strengths through visions and shamanic journeys with the local tribe. The plot is as thick as its jungle setting. There are dangers such as the terrifying humanoid Beast that kills with huge claws, anacondas, natives with poison dart arrows, and an untrustworthy member of the expedition. The story is a struggle between good and evil, filled with surprises and adventure. Put this title on your “If You Liked Harry Potter” lists, and Allende may just find new fans. Though this is a rather hefty book, it is a real page-turner with hope for more, as Allende leaves readers with, “Until we meet again.”–Angela J. Reynolds, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR for School Library Journal
2. CORALINE, Neil Gaiman
Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.–Barnes & Noble
3. HOLES, Louis Sachar
“If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.” Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where there is no lake, and there are no happy campers. In place of what used to be “the largest lake in Texas” is now a dry, flat, sunburned wasteland, pocked with countless identical holes dug by boys improving their character. Stanley Yelnats, of palindromic name and ill-fated pedigree, has landed at Camp Green Lake because it seemed a better option than jail. No matter that his conviction was all a case of mistaken identity, the Yelnats family has become accustomed to a long history of bad luck, thanks to their “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!” Despite his innocence, Stanley is quickly enmeshed in the Camp Green Lake routine: rising before dawn to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter; learning how to get along with the Lord of the Flies-styled pack of boys in Group D; and fearing the warden, who paints her fingernails with rattlesnake venom. But when Stanley realizes that the boys may not just be digging to build character….–Brangien Davis for Amazon
4. BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, Kate DiCamillo
Because of Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly, happy dog, 10-year-old Opal learns 10 things about her long-gone mother from her preacher father. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes new friends among the somewhat unusual residents of her new hometown, Naomi, Florida. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to find her place in the world and let go of some of the sadness left by her mother’s abandonment seven years earlier. With her newly adopted, goofy pooch at her side, Opal explores her bittersweet world and learns to listen to other people’s lives. This warm and winning book hosts an unforgettable cast of characters, including a librarian who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace, an ex-con pet-store clerk who plays sweet music to his animal charges, and the neighborhood “witch,” a nearly blind woman who sees with her heart. Part Frankie (The Member of the Wedding), part Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Opal brings her own unique and wonderful voice to a story of friendship, loneliness, and acceptance. Opal’s down-home charm and dead-on honesty will earn her friends and fans far beyond the confines of Naomi, Florida. (Ages 9 and older) –Emilie Coulter for Amazon
5. THE BOOK THIEF, Marcus Zusak **
Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA for School Library Journal
6. THE GOOD FAIRIES OF NEW YORK, Martin Millar
British author Millar offers fiercely funny (and often inebriated) Scottish fairies, a poignant love story as well as insights into the gravity of Crohn’s disease, cultural conflicts and the plight of the homeless in this fey urban fantasy. Due to the machinations of the obnoxious Tala, Cornwall’s fairy king, only a few humans can see the 18-inch-tall fairies who alight in Manhattan: Magenta, a homeless woman who thinks she’s the ancient Greek general Xenophon; Dinnie, an overweight slacker; and Kerry, a poor artist/musician who hopes her Ancient Celtic Flower Alphabet will win a local arts prize. Fairies Heather MacKintosh and Morag MacPherson scheme to put Dinnie and Kerry together, rescue fairy artifacts and prove that in love or war, music is essential.
7. DINGO, Charles De Lint
De Lint ingeniously incorporates Aboriginal mythology into an intriguing story. Miguel, 17, is minding his dad’s funky comics and record store in a small resort community when a girl dashes in with her dog to escape the town bully. Miguel feels an immediate connection to her, but there is something strange about her dog. Gradually, he discovers that Lainey is a shape-changer, a magical creature from Australia’s Aboriginal past, and the dog—really a dingo—is actually her twin sister. The girls are hiding from their father, who wants to sacrifice Lainey to the powerful Aboriginal spirit Warrigal, the original clan leader, who is trapped in a tree. Suddenly Miguel is catapulted into a rain forest fantasy world complete with a talking cautionary turkey, haunted ancestral bones, and mysterious spirits. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this tale of an initially clueless protagonist thrust into a dangerous situation where he’s expected to become an instant hero. A somewhat unnecessary subplot involves the town bully, who actually has a heart of gold and a tender artistic side, and is drawn into the adventure when he falls for Lainey’s twin. Still, the juxtaposition of contemporary teen life with fantasy is well done. Readers might be interested enough to investigate more about the complicated Aboriginal Dreamtime of Australia and its early clan spirits and creation myths.—Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MD for School Library Journal
8. THE RIVER KING, Alice Hoffman**
Set in and around an exclusive private school in fictional Haddan, Mass., bestselling author Hoffman’s (Practical Magic; Here on Earth) latest novel flows as swiftly and limpidly as the Haddan River, the town’s mystical waterway. As one expects in a Hoffman novel, strange things have always happened in HaddanDa combination of Mother Nature gone awry and human nature following suit. In 1858, the year the school was completed, a devastating flood almost destroyed it and the town. The esteemed headmaster, Dr. Howe, married a pretty local girl who hung herself from the rafters “one mild evening in March.” Local superstitions prove true more often than not, and twice in recent history a black, algae-laden rain has covered people and buildings with a dark sludge. An uneasy peace has always existed between the locals and the Haddan School, based on the latter’s financial benefit to the community and the local authorities’ willingness to look the other way when necessary to maintain the school’s reputation. But when student August Pierce is found drowned in the Haddan River, detective Abel Grey is flooded with memories of his own teenage brother’s suicide, and refuses to look away. Supporting characters are richly textured: new photography instructor Betsy Chase feels unsafe in Haddan, yet somehow finds herself engaged to a mysterious young history professor Eric Herman; Carlin Leander, a poor, strikingly beautiful young girl, comes to Haddan to recreate herself and escape her neglectful mother, and becomes misfit August’s only friend while dating the most popular boy on campus; Helen Davis, chair of the history department, is haunted by a long-ago affair she had with Dr. Howe, which she believes had something to do with his young wife’s suicide. As ever, Hoffman mixes myth, magic and reality, addressing issues of town and gown, enchanting her readers with a many-layered morality tale and proving herself once again an inventive author with a distinctive touch.–PW
9. THE WOOD WIFE, Terri Windling **
When writer Maggie Black learns that her friend and mentor, poet Davis Cooper, has died and left her his house in the arid hills outside Tucson, Ariz., she travels there intending to write his biography and to investigate the mysterious circumstances of his death. Every detail she uncovers about Cooper’s past, however, only seems to raise more questions. When Maggie comes home one evening to find that the house has been ransacked, it becomes clear that she’s not the only one looking for answers. To solve the puzzle of Cooper’s life and death, Maggie will have to outwit the Trickster and the other powerful quasi-human creatures that roam the desert hills and feed on creative energy. Although at times Windling’s humans come off as too sensitive and artistic, her Native American spirits comprise an intriguing blend of human folklore and alien emotion. Her debut novel is richly imaginative, a captivating mix of traditional fantasy and magical realism.–PW
10. FIREBIRDS RISING, an anthology edited by Sharyn November
Imagine that Archeoptrix, the prehistoric link between birds and dinosaurs, had evolved into the dominant life-form on a planet. In Carol Emshwiller’s Quill, representatives of that planet have secretly crashed on Earth and begun interbreeding with humans. In Kelly Link’s The Wizards of Perfil, an orphan boy and his caustic cousin, both dirt poor and gifted with unusual psychic powers, are bought by a strange man to serve the awesome and forbidding wizards of Perfil, only to learn after difficult trials and life-changing tragedies that they are the wizards. In Kara Dalkey’s near-future Hives, cell phones can beam and receive messages without external sound. The phones are highly addictive and used by high school girls to connect ultra-exclusive cliques. A former-addict-turned-girl-detective gets involved when the rejects of one such hive begin committing suicide one after another. These are just 3 of the 16 stories in this collection. The selections range in length from 9 pages (Francesca Lia Block’s chilling Blood Roses, in which two sisters confront a serial killer) to 50 pages. Fantasy stories outnumber sci-fi two to one, and the great majority of the tales feature female protagonists. Even those with male protagonists deal with themes of friendship, family, love, and loss more than action and adventure. Compelling stories for thoughtful readers.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA for School Library Journal
11. THE CITY AND THE CITY, China Mieville
The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don’t, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville’s The City & The City. Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he’s tried on different genres, and here he’s fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective’s voice that’s wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu’s own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don’t end with the solution of a murder. –Tom Nissley, for Amazon
Today, genre is an ever-evolving thing. Years ago, libraries and bookstores shelved like with like alphabetically–mysteries went with mysteries, science fiction with science fiction, and romance with romance. But over the past century, newer, genres and sub-genres have trickled into the mainstream, making bookstores and libraries a little tricky to navigate. One particularly “new” *genre (or mode) is magic realism, a style that grew out of the 1920 visual arts movement. But what does magic realism mean? And why isn’t it just another kind of fantasy novel?
Magic Realism, or New Objectivity, started out as a post-expressionist kind of visual art. Despite the “magic” tag, though, this new style wasn’t about elves and goblins, but rather rediscovering the magic in the world as it is. As artist Grethe Jurgens writes,
“It is the discovery of a totally new world. One paints pots and rubbish piles, and then suddenly sees these things quite differently, as if one had never before seen a pot. One paints a landscape, trees, houses, vehicles, and one sees the world anew. One discovers like a child an adventure-filled land.”
Sometime in the 1930s, writers started to experiment with this new form, and scholarly pieces started to appear, particularly in the Americas, comparing Magic Realism to other genres, but also further defining and refining the idea. As a result, MR is very popular in South and Central America, and many of the genres leading authors are originally from there (Angel Flores, Alejo Carpentier).
Is Magic Realism the new fantasy?
When we think magic, we think fantasy, fairy tale, perhaps even Disney. According to Bruce Holland Rogers, even editors find the term Magic Realism confusing–
“If a magazine editor these days asks for contributions that are magical realism, what she’s really saying is that she wants contemporary fantasy written to a high literary standard—fantasy that readers who “don’t read escapist literature” will happily read. It’s a marketing label and an attempt to carve out a part of the prestige readership for speculative works.”
But if Magic Realism isn’t fantasy, what is it? It’s hard to say. As Rogers points out, some readers read and enjoy MR novels but dismiss them as fantasy. Others discuss them in great seriousness in book groups and workshops. But there are some common elements in many MR stories.
Magic Realism Checklist:
- Realistic setting
- Focus on new aspects of the mundane
- Focus on finding new experiences/relationships within old ones
- Protagonist seeks out mystery in the everyday
- Explores a new/unusual reality–subjective rather than objective
- Plot and structure are often secondary to character growth and development
Not every element will show up in every novel or short story. But character, reality, and worldview are key points in pretty much every Magic Realism novel written to date. In their book, Zamora and Faris, two of the earliest writers on Magic Realism, describe Magical Realism as…
…an attitude toward reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured forms, in elaborate or rustic styles in closed or open structures. In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.
Part of the MR/F (cue mystery music–Mr. F!) problem–aside from the “magic” in the term–is that while fantasy is speculative rather than realistic, it shares certain elements with Magic Realism. Good fantasy, like good science fiction, often explores different perspectives and ideas, such as Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and Earthsea series. Similarly, speculative fiction, a literary subgenre which also explores new or unusual perspectives is often confused with Magic Realism, too. Both speculative fiction and fantasy, though, are by their nature speculative, about what ifs and maybes. MR is about the here, the whens and yesterdays of the real world in the past and present.
Why Magic Realism is Important in YA
It’s easy to dismiss Magic Realism–again, because of the name–as a YA and kid genre. But there’s actually not as much YA Magic Realism out there as you might think, because kids and teens are less genre obsessed than adult readers. Moreover, the majority of YA readers are still discovering the real world and their place in it–for teens, everyday life is Magic Realism.
In YA, too, the definition of Magic Realism is less stark than it is elsewhere in the literary world. Agent Jennifer Matson thinks of it…
…as a subset of fantasy, and a magical realistic novel as one in which magical elements intrude, almost matter-of-factly, into a basically realistic setup, informing the novel’s various elements in a natural way rather than totally redirecting them. I also think of the magic as being very gentle and often surreal – nothing “high fantasy” (wizardly bolts, vampires, et cetera) about it.
What sort of books are considered Magic Realism in the YA world? Neil Gaiman’s Coraline could be considered MR. Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief half fits the bill, as does Isabel Allende’s City of the Beasts and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series. Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie and Louis Sachar’s Holes also come to mind, as does pretty much anything by Francesca Lia Block (and maybe Tanith Lee). (Check back tomorrow for an MR booklist.)
Should there be more Magic Realism in YA?
Many people, including kids and teens, read for escapist reasons. YA readers also read to help find their niche, to learn how to parse an event (or the world at large), to make sense of themselves and their experiences. And good novels–great novels–allow, even encourage this sort of deep thinking. But Magic Realism takes deep thinking a step farther, stripping away the pretty, carefully boxed-up worlds we as readers so easily slip into, forcing us to confront the world as it is, rather than through a safe, fairy tale veil. To borrow from author Alberto Manquel **,
“Unlike the literature of fantasy, in which the world itself—Narnia or Middle Earth—is unreal, fantastic literature finds its bearings in our own landscapes, our cities, our living-rooms, our beds, where suddenly something happens which demands not so much our belief as our lack of disbelief…in the Anglo-Saxon world, ‘realistic’ is a term of praise and, in spite of centuries of ghost stories and tales of wonder, fantastic literature is regarded as a sort of poor relation. The answer lies perhaps in that, at its best, fantastic literature is never explicit, and readers are made uneasy by the misty mirror it holds up to them. Hundreds of scholarly articles discuss at length whether Banquo’s ghost did or did not exist; none questions the existence of Macbeth. The power of fantastic literature lies not in the answers it dutifully provides, but in the questions.”
Do you read Magic Realism? Write it? Who are your favorite authors?
*some consider Magic Realism a literary mode rather than a genre. I’ve stuck with genre since that how it’s usually discussed in terms of YA and kid lit.
** A Background Reading/Primer for Teachers of Fourth – Eighth Grade Students, available here (PDF download off site).