Magical realism and fabulism are having a moment in pop culture — it’s a nice escape from the present world to be able to see a world that looks almost like ours, but characters get to have a little magical help to make things a bit better.
Magical realism was created by Latin American authors and creators, originally as biting political commentary and subversion, but today it’s known for its similarities to our everyday world with some alternate reality concepts, like magic. As artists all over the world began using this storytelling device and structure, new sub-genres began to form, like surrealism and fabulism.
I’d also recommend reading these really wonderful articles about why magical realism is so important to the Latin American diaspora and why it shouldn’t be conflated with fabulism or surrealism but often is.
Also on the rise in mainstream pop culture have been LGBTQIA+ stories, and in the past few years, a good number of these novels have been in the fabulist and magical realist genres, putting queer characters at the front and center of their own magical journeys.
A quick note: I aimed to find as many representations as possible with this list, but the genre seems to be lacking in books with intersex characters. Here are some contemporary books about intersex people you can read until we see some more representation in this category.
LGBTQIA+ Magical Realism & Fabulism Books
The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar
A closeted Syrian American trans boy is the main character in this novel, reeling with the aftermath of a suspicious fire that killed his mother five years ago. Now, he’s responsible for taking care of his grandmother during the day, and by night, managing the visits of the ghost of his mother haunting him. The only time he takes for himself are the precious moments at night when he is able to sneak out to paint murals on buildings in his New York neighborhood. But when he finds a journal that once belonged to a famous artist with strange ties to his mother, he finds himself in the middle of a search to learn more about his mother’s past and his own queer community he never knew existed.
This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke
This historical novel with a splash of magic follows Csilla, who is growing up amid post–World War II Budapest, and the Communists have seized power. Her parents were murdered by Soviet police, and Csilla just wants to hide and survive and escape. But soon her carefully laid plans of getting out are unraveling, and she’ll need all the help she can get. Now she faces an even tougher dilemma: stick with her plan to escape for good, or try to save her home and country before it all burns down.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
When 12-year-old Kingston’s brother James dies, Kingston is sure he turns into a dragonfly to watch over him and his family. He really wants to tell his best friend, Sandy, about everything, but right before he died, his brother told him not to be friends with Sandy anymore, saying he might be gay. Sandy soon disappears, and when Kingston finds him hiding out in a tent, he decides to listen to his own gut and help Sandy escape from his abusive father. Together, they embark on a quest to find their own paradise, somewhere among the dragonflies.
We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu
Noemi lost her best friend, Link, in a freak accident, and everyone around her is lost and confused about what happened. But Noemi knows it was more than that. Link drowned in a lake only she can find, and the closer she tries to get to the truth, the more dangerous it seems to become, as someone — claiming to be Link — is warning her to stay away from the forest. Noemi can’t handle the truth alone, and she needs help, so she rallies her new housemate Jonas and Link’s younger sister Amberlyn to help her make sense of Link’s death and their own lives.
The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos
While this may lean a little more toward traditional fantasy, it is set in today’s contemporary world, which, for me, also qualifies it in the fabulism genre, with just a little extra oomph of magic. Sam and his friends just need to keep a low profile until they can graduate — in their small town that hates magic, they have a lot to keep quiet. But when senior year starts, Sam, James, and Delia, begin to splinter apart, and James lets it slip that over the summer, he got involved with some magickers who may not be great people, and who may now be out to get back at him. Sam is trying desperately to keep his friends and himself together, but it seems as though magic — the very thing that brought them together in the first place — is now tearing them apart.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Everyone knows Miel and Sam are odd, and they generally stay away from the pair. But Miel and Sam know they aren’t the real threats — that’s the Bonner girls, four sisters in town who everyone says are witches. The rumors circulate that the witches are after Miel, who can grow roses out of her wrist. They want the roses for their power, and they’ll stop at nothing to get to Miel no matter what it takes. Bonus: check out The Mirror Season, also by Anna-Marie McLemore, which is another LGBTQIA+ magical realism book.
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
Mercedes feels like everything is falling apart. Her abuela is in a coma, and she can’t do anything about it, she hasn’t been able to paint anything in a year, and she’s in love with her best friend, Victoria, but can’t say anything to her about it. But when strange art begins appearing out of nowhere — a piano showing up on her front lawn, an invitation to a mysterious meeting at the Red Mangrove Estate — Mercedes feels a shift. At the estate, things feel clearer, but she can’t take that feeling with her outside those walls, and she feels like she’s living two lives, but she can’t figure out which life she’s supposed to be living.
The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos
Ruby grew up hearing stories of the women in her family — the women who, once in possession of powerful magic, could evade death. But they had been forced to flee Russia and make their way to America, where Ruby and her family now lived. But the women still have a faint whisper of magic, and when Ruby comes of age, she will be able to see who she will be when she dies — a small flicker that allows her to see her fate but not change it. When Ruby’s great-aunt dies and her vision does not match reality, Ruby becomes hopeful that her own future may still be full of life after all, no matter what she saw in her vision.
Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi
It’s an ordinary day for Otto and Xavier as they embark on a trip gifted to them from an aunt to celebrate their love and new commitment to each other. They board a sleeper train for a beautiful trip with a view, but once aboard, it seems the train is not quite what they were expecting. As the trip chugs along, they begin to realize they might be the only passengers aboard, and the train seems to know their every want and preference before they even think of it themselves, making for one strange and unforgettable journey.
Want to read some classics in the magical realism and fabulism genres, or are you looking for YA magical realism and fabulism books? Either way, we’ve got you covered!