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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Magical Realism Favourites

For quite some time, magical realism was my most read genre, so there wasn’t a lack of titles to choose from when it came to selecting my favourites. Magical realism has a long history as a genre, and elements of it are often combined with different genre-elements like horror, science-fiction, romance or even autobiographical writing. Bellow you’ll find my running Top-20 favourites, as well as a handful of honourable mentions. For your ease of navigation, I’ve divided them into 4 subsections: Literary & Contemporary, Horror/Suspense, Young Adult and Poetry & Short Stories. Although each of them started with an evenly divided top 5, that symmetry was quickly lost as is the nature of running-favourite-lists…As with any of my favourite lists, but probably even more so with this one, “honourable mentions” isn’t a downgrade term here. These are often just as brilliant as their counterparts, and I gave each of the books on here 5-stars. The sheer fact that I had over 150 books to choose from makes it almost impossible to narrow it down to 20.

Enjoy, and I hope to inspire you to add some new titles to your TBR. As always: a link to each books corresponding Goodreads-page will be provided so you can easily add them there.


Literary & Contemporary:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the messiness of grief, father-daughter-relations, caregiving/hospice care and love in all its forms explored in quite this way before… A woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike. What follows is a hallucinatory hike across a seemingly impossible desert.

2.        Ghost Music – Ann Yu

A stunning novel about of music and mushrooms novel of which follows a former concert pianist searching for the truth about a vanished musician, and working through a spectrum of grief in all its multifaceted ways along the way. Song Yan has spent her days alone and isolated in her apartment, after she gave up her dreams of touring as a pianist for a domestic life with her husband. Trapped in her own loneliness and unfulfilled potential, she’s stuck in a downwards spiral and haunted by nightmares. That is broken when a parcel arrives, carrying mushrooms native to her mother-in-law’s province is delivered seemingly by mistake. This sets her on a journey of discovery and connection that sometimes teeters on the edge of surreality.

A brilliantly constructed narrative framed narrative about grief, love, memory and creating space for the aforementioned.

Annie, Edward, and their young daughter, Rose, live in a cramped apartment. One night, without warning, they find a beautiful terrace hidden in their closet. It wasn't there before, and it seems to only appear when their friend Stephanie visits. A city dweller's dream come true! But every extra bit of space has a hidden cost, and the terrace sets off a seismic chain of events, forever changing the shape of their tiny home, and the shape of the world.

A deeply layered parable, exploring a man’s grief over the loss of his brother, and his search for redemption, through the lens of Diné creation mythology. As the unbearable loss settles deeper into his bones, Damien, a small-town line cook, walks away from everything he has ever known. Driving as far south as his old truck and his legs allow, he lands in a fishing village beyond the reach of his past where he hopes he can finally forget. But the village has grief of its own. The same day that Damien arrives, a young woman from the community’s most powerful family is being laid to rest. Soon, Damien finds himself wrapped up in the tangle of ancient bruja’s, carrying centuries-old grudges and deep buried losses.

An emotionally powerful allegory for love, (chronic) degenerative illness and caregiving, in which we follow a man who’s diagnosed with an incurable condition that will slowly turn him into a great white shark. Although the premise sounds a bit ridiculous in itself, the execution is a brilliant look at long-term degenerative illness and the toll it takes on not just the person, but their loved ones around them.

 A deeply personal “fictionalized memoir”  in which Machado explores her own experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship through the metaphor of a haunted house. One of the most powerful memoirs I’ve ever read, period.

Honourable Mentions:

In the pulsating moments after she has been murdered and left in a

dumpster outside Istanbul, Tequila Leila enters series of sensory memories from her life. A birds-eye-view of a life compressed into minutes and the moments that mattered in the end.

-            Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden A lyrical, poetic novel following the life of Death, reimagined as a workingclass Black Woman, and her interactions with a troubled young writer.

-            Wildwood Whispers – Willa Reece A heartwarming novel of hope, fate, and folk magic unfolds when a young woman travels to a sleepy southern town in the Appalachian Mountains to bury her best friend.

-            The Living Sea of Waking Dreams – Richard Flanagan An aged woman lies dying in a hospital bed, increasingly escaping

through the window into visions of horror and delight. Meanwhile, her daughter, in anticipatory grief over the loss of her mother, begins to notice that, one by one, her bodyparts begin to vanish.

Horror & Suspense

A literary horror story featuring themes of the deep ocean, grief, loss and alienation (in an environmental, personal as well as relationship level). We follow the unravelling relationship between two women after one of them returns from a deep-sea mission that ended in tragedy. Both of them get the destinct feeling that the woman who returned from these traumatic events isn't the same that left. This novel got under my skin and has haunted me with it melancholic and eerie beauty and hasn't left my mind since I finished it 3 years ago.

A brilliant coming of age tale of a man recalling his experiences from a traumatic summer when he was a boy, through the distorted, hallucinatory lens of a child’s memory.

A ghostly tale of racism, grief and survival in which a young black woman spends her days ferrying ill-fated passengers in her haunted taxi-car (a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk) as she manages her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River.

A deeply strange take on the “dark academia-craze” that could’ve only come from the hand of Mona Awad of Bunny-fame.

Miranda Fitch’s is a disillusioned, former rising-star of the theater, until a terrible accident on stage ended career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. She now begrudgingly works a job as a theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

A short but powerful eco-horror novella that explores themes of queerness and parental loss through a magical realist lens. A female artists, struggling with a bout of artblock, is gifted a solo cabin-holiday by her girlfriend in hopes of sparking her creativity. Surrounded by the brackish waters of the lake and oppressive swamp-mists, her mind indeed begins to blossom with uncanny visions. Told alongside the descriptions of the series of painting created during her trip, we follow her journey in the natural bog, as well as the swampy depth of her own mind.

Honourable mentions:

Three tales of Vietnamese women, separated by decades of time intertwine, connected by a folkloric haunting across time. Part puzzle, part revenge tale, part ghost story, this kaleidoscopic novel set in Vietnam spins half a century of history and folklore into the story of a missing woman.

A truly haunting tale of grief, in which a mother, after losing her son to an incurable illness, takes a piece of his lung after his death, and cares for it like it’s her child. From the lung grows a new creature, but it’s not the son she knew, but a little monster she equally loves and fears.

-            Chlorine – Jade Song

A tale of perfection and the pressure of academia and competitive sports, in which a young woman loses herself to the idea of making herself into a mermaid in order to reach her true potential as a competitive swimmer.

A modern ghost story in which a strange event turns a complete neighbourhood into a ghost town overnight. Years down the line, the three sole survivors of the night return to the now quarantined area, in search of answers and closure.

Poetry and Short Stories:

A brilliant poetry collection, in which the author explores her experiences growing up with a disability and chronic illness, from childhood to adulthood, and ultimately through the process of IVF.

A novella in verse in which a family is taunted by the apparition of a meanspirited crow following the death of their mother.

13.           Me (Moth) – Amber McBride 

A YA-novel in verse about a girl grieving the recent loss of her parents in a fatal car accident, and a boy battling depression find each other on a roadtrip, chasing down the ghosts that haunt them both.

Young Adult:

I had to open with this one, as it’s pretty much the “classic” magical realism novel that got me (and many others) into the genre. In this stunningly penned tale that reads almost like a fairytale, we follow our titular protagonist; a girl inexplicably born with the wings of a bird, through her beautiful and often tragic interaction with the world around her small town.

After having aged out of the foster system, 18- year old Mila accepts an opportunity to work at a teaching job at an isolated farm on the North Californian Coast. During the daytime she finds connection and friendship in her colleagues and the foster children she tutors, yet during the night the lingering sea mist is filled with ghosts.This one honestly is in the YA-category only because of the age of the protagonist, as I personally feel it’s perfectly suited to be read by adults alike.

This was one of the hardest YA-books I’ve ever read, due to how deeply raw and personally the experiences of one of the characters resonated with me. Because of that brilliant depiction and resonance though, it deserves a place on this list.

It's been more than 50 years since a tornado tore through a drive-in movie theater in tiny Mercer, Illinois, leaving dozens of teens -- a whole generation of Mercerites -- dead in its wake. So when another tornado touches down in the exact same spot on the anniversary of this small-town tragedy, it drags up more than just metaphorical ghosts. Rather than vengeful or frightening though, these ghosts are just as human as they were before their passing, and keen on helping the teens of the current town overcome the challenges they never got to.

A deeply personal and honest depiction of childhood trauma, grief, paracosm, and the cost of an almost symbiotic relationship between a brother and sister once that bond is shattered.

Annie and her older brother Jamie have been inseparable for as long as she can remember. When Jamie goes missing without a trace, Annie becomes convinced he has entered the fantastical world they used to play pretend in, and believes that she's the only one who can bring him back.

You guys are probably sick of me talking about this book, but I love it and there´s no convincing me otherwise. Elatsoe is a warm and powerful story of bravery, community and (found-family), and connections that remain beyond the boundery of death. Elatsoe is a Lipan Apache teen, who lives in an America quite similar to our own. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. When Ellie’s beloved cousin becomes the victim in a horrible crime, she sets off on a journey for answers. Along the way, she’s helped by her inherited talent for communicating with- and raising ghosts. With the wisdom of her ancestors, including her namesake Six-great Grandmother, and her the loyal ghost of their late family dog Kirby, Ellie sets off on a quest to protect the community she loves. A quest that will take her from the mysterious neighboring town of Willowbee to the depths of the underworld…Of course, I am happy to be able to add the prequel Sheine Lende to my recommendations too.

You can basically consider The Mirror Season a placeholder title, as I could’ve put this entire authors oeuvre here. AM McLemore is basically the queen of magical realism and lyrical prose, if that crown were mine to give away. Her lush language truly transports you, and fits in perfectly with the dreamlike atmosphere of her stories. In The Mirror Season, they use this dreamlike softness to make a dark and difficult topic more approachable. We follow two teens who were both sexually assaulted at the same party. Both haunted by what happened in their own way, they develop a connection through her family's possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown.

Honourable Mentions:

In the wake of an earthquake that disrupted a nation, the hardest hit areas of Japan have broken up into time-zones: areas of space where time flows at different speeds. Both Sora and her father, grieving the loss of their partner and mother, have been obsessively exploring these zones in secret, each with motives of their own. Her father seeks a scientific answer to the incomprehensible. Sora seeks her mother, who went missing during the quake, hoping to find her trapped in time somewhere.

A deeply personal and unique tale about sinking to the depth of mental illness, and finding you way back to the surface. We follow two parallel storylines; one of a contemporary teenage boy, making his way through life whilst coping with Schizophrenia. The other, a mirrored world of his minds creation in which he’s an unwilling passenger on a ship heading for the deepest point of the ocean.  

 After the loss of her mother, a Taiwanese-American teen becomes convinced her mother hasn’t died, but instead has turned into a bird. She undertakes a journey following the migration of that bird, back along the roots of her family-tree, to the place her mum and grandparents grew up.


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