Around the World with Magical Realism: North America

Welcome back to Magical Realism May Mondays! Last week, we explored magical realism from Latin America. This week, we’re heading up to North America. Magical realism from North America includes a broad variety of genres and themes, as diverse as the region itself. These books often use magical realism to feature themes of politics, history, and family conflict in an approachable way.

If you love realism, but want background magic that adds an element of mystery to the plot, you might love magical realism from North America. Here’s some suggestions to get you started:

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: A witty and heartwarming novel following the Waverly family whose women are enchanted with unique and mysterious gifts, focusing on two sisters reforging their relationship while discovering themselves.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: In this lyrical, haunting story Hiram Walker, a Virginia slave, narrowly escapes a drowning death and discovers that he possesses a magical gift to move from one place to another.

Fire is your Water by Jim Minick: Twenty-year-old Ada Franklin is widely known as a faith healer, but her powers disappear when her faith in God is questioned after a fire. Fire is Your Water is a bittersweet and thoughtful novel of faith and human-connection, driven by engaging characters.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman: In this deeply moving and hopeful coming-of-age story, a young girl struggles to come to terms with tragedy and find the purpose of her life. Hoffman’s clever use of magical realism adds a light touch of mysticism to a common human experience.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn: When a child falls overboard and is returned safely to his mother by sharks, his miraculous rescue becomes a legend that complicates life for his family in this mystical, lush tale.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: A struggling Alaskan couple find hope and joy when they take in a child, but begin to question themselves as her origins are revealed in this haunting and spare modern retelling of a Russian fairy tale.

Bailey’s Café by Gloria Naylor: A diverse and darkly lyrical novel about a diner sitting on the edge of the world, where groups of misfits gather to share their stories and contemplate the paths of their lives.

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian: A fast-paced, satirical coming-of-age story following an Indian-American teen who joins his crush in a plot to use stolen gold to gain ambition, triggering devastating consequences.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld: Taking place in a prison described by an unreliable narrator, The Enchanted is a haunting and dark novel told in alternating narratives by a man on death row, a fallen priest, and an investigator hired to commute a condemned man’s sentence.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer: A hilarious, suspenseful, and deeply emotional novel of dual narratives; one focusing on a man’s journey to find a woman who saved his grandmother from the Nazis, and the other a fabled history of his grandfather’s shtetl.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson: Following Robert Grainier, a laborer in the Great Northwest, Train Dreams chronicles the changing of America through the 20th century in haunting prose with the collision of modernism and myth. A truly epic story in a small package.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich: Told with Erdrich’s characteristic suspense and lyrical prose, LaRose is a powerful and poignant story of justice, sacrifice, and tradition.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Life of Pi tells the outlandish and mystical story of Pi Patel, a young boy who was stranded in a lifeboat for over 200 days. This is a haunting and intricate novel that questions truth and memory. It’s a true feast for the imagination.

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore: Blending suspense, folklore, and romance, this is a moving lyrical story following the Nomeolvides women who use their magic to tend the ground of La Pradera.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko: At the center of this gritty, complex novel is Lecha, an woman with powers that allow her to locate the dead and converse with snakes and a white woman seeking help to locate her kidnapped baby. 

Ruthie Fear by Maxim Loskutoff: After seeing a terrifying creature in the woods as a child, a young woman faces the violent past of her remote Montana valley in this unique, breathtaking novel.

Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone: Born with a pair of wings molded to her back, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas embarks on a quest to find her place in this world and discovers a miraculous lineage of women in this heartwrenching, lyrical tale.

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link: A strange, surreal collection of nine linked stories celebrating the intersection between the worlds of reality and the supernatural.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon: Fleeing from the strict religious compound where she was raised, a young woman seeks safety in the forest and gives birth to twins in this creepy, suspenseful tale.

Touch by Alexi Zentner: Returning to his childhood home on the eve of his mother’s funeral, Stephen is forced to confront his past and the spirits that surround the village in this haunting, fast-paced story.

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr: The natural world plays a powerful role in this evocative collection of stories exploring the complex mysteries of the human condition.

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins: A family of women known for their caul, an invisible layer of skin that gives them the power to heal others, is at the heart of this atmospheric, multilayered novel.

Paradise by Toni Morrison: Brimming with lyrical language and haunting mysticism, this dramatic book tells the story of Ruby, Oklahoma, an all Black town in which the men of the town blame women seeking refuge in an old mansion for the change in their community’s character.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel: An intricate, atmospheric tale with a large cast of characters centering on a massive Ponzi scheme that unravels to disastrous effect.

The Search for Heinrich Schlögel: A man’s hike into the isolated interior of Baffin Island quickly becomes surreal as he experiences strange visions in this quirky, complex novel.

The Melting Queen by Bruce Cinnamon: When genderfluid River Runson is named as the Melting Queen, they uncover the hidden history of Melting Day and force Edmonton to confront the dark underbelly of its traditions in this intriguing novel.

Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale: In this compelling, disturbing story, a daughter returns to her small coastal town to be with her father who is suffering from PTSD and finds that creatures start dying mysteriously.

Crow Winter by Karen McBride: Since returning home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, Hazel Ellis has been dreaming of an old crow who tells her he’s there to save her in this atmospheric, mystical tale.

As always, this is just a start to the wide range of magical realism from North America. Let me know what your favorites are in the comments! And remember to check back next Monday as we continue traveling around the world with magical realism

Published by Kristi

Hi there! I am Kristi, a book obsessed human with strong opinions. Join me as I read across genres and do the work to find you the best of the best books.

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