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Tag: magical realism

#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks, Volume 3

The latest round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature fantastic characters and a dash of magical realism!

A Million JunesA Million Junes by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication date: May 16, 2017
ISBN: 9781524756123

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell comes from a long line of Jacks. As a child, her father raised her on the tall tales of her Jack ancestors, beginning with Jack I and his quest to plant his cherry trees in the perfect spot–her current home of Five Fingers, Michigan, right in the middle of the magically mysterious “thin place” where her home is located. But the land, the legacy, and the cherries have always been tangled up with the neighboring Angert family, resulting in a hatred that goes beyond a typical petty feud. When fate tragically strikes one family, the other is soon to follow. Despite the bad blood and bad luck, June didn’t begin to take the feud seriously until her father’s death. And now the family’s’ complicated relationship is at the forefront when the youngest Angert, Saul, returns home from a prestigious college writing program to care for his ailing father. For the first time, June and Saul’s paths continue to cross, and not always by accident. As a reluctant friendship turns into something more, a strange occurrence causes June and Saul to begin reliving scenes from the past. These memories make it clear that something sinister is behind the feud, and June and Saul must uncover long buried family secrets before tragic fate strikes again.

A Millions Junes, Emily Henry’s sophomore work, is my favorite kind of book. It’s magical realism at its best, complete with family curses, love, ghosts, grief, and a blurred line between fantasy and reality. June is a fantastic character–snarky and charming and flawed–and she misses her father with an ache that’s palpable from the page. Her best friend, Hannah, is equally as memorable. She’s more loveable than prickly June, but it’s their friendship and love for each other that stands out the most: when Henry writes the dialogue “You’re my first great love,” it’s Hannah and June having the conversation. And then there’s Saul, the sweetly alluring college boy with his own tragic past. He’s an atypical YA hero, yet just as swoony, and readers fall for him right along with June. The strange and slightly creepy magical elements of A Million Junes are never really explained, and readers have to suspend their belief and go along for the ride, something Emily Henry’s vivid writing makes it easy to do.

Just like all great audiobook performances, Julia Whelan’s narration of A Million Junes brings the story to a whole new level. Her voice is perfectly suited to the character of June, which may be the reason I liked this main character so much. Whelan pays special attention to pacing and characterization, highlighting Henry’s witty dialogue, complicated characters, and emotional story arc. This is definitely an audiobook I will be listening to again, and I highly recommend it for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap.

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Is This Just Fantasy?: Defying Genre!

Just Fantasy defying genreGenre is a funny thing.  While it’s often easy–and frankly helpful– to divide novels into their neatly labeled slots based on basic characteristics such as setting and plot.  However, stories–like human beings–resist being placed into boxes and novels that blur the lines between genres consistently bring something unique to the table.

Today I wanted to highlight recent titles that experiment with two genres often perceived as polar opposites: contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction.  Frequently, such titles are classified as magical realism.  This category is fascinating and tricky to define but generally, it includes novels set in a world like ours but with certain magical elements as a natural part of that world; magical realism usually does not include world-building or explanations of its magical elements.  For a larger overview of the genre and its place in young adult fiction, I recommend this excellent post by Kelly Jensen & Kimberly Francisco over at Stacked.  For further explorations, check out Hub bloggers Julie Bartel and Alegria Barclay’s posts in memory of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the authors most often identified with magical realism.

While I’m not sure that all these titles fit the generally accepted definition of magical realism, they all use strategic fantastical elements to illuminate contemporary stories about young adults’ coming of age in a world like ours.  Each title defies common genre expectations and none fit comfortably into a single category.  Instead they bend, reject, and flirt with multiple genres to create something unusual and compelling.

afterworldsAfterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

In between final exams and college applications, Darcy Patel wrote a novel and sent it off to a publisher on a whim.  Now, she’s moving to New York City with an amazing book deal but without an apartment, friends, or any idea what’s waiting for her.  As Darcy navigates the thrilling and overwhelming new world of professional writing & publishing, she also attempts to ride the ecstatic highs and heart-crushing lows of falling in love for the first time.

Meanwhile, the protagonist  of her paranormal thriller, Lizzie Scofield, deals with the strange new abilities she’s gained since surviving a terrorist attack by playing dead and slipping temporarily into another reality known as the Afterworld.  Told in alternating chapters, Darcy and Lizzie’s stories intertwine as both young women venture into adulthood and face unfamiliar decisions.

This intriguing novel could be classified as contemporary fiction with an embedded paranormal thriller but I prefer to think of it as a form of metafiction; after all, it’s a story about a writer beginning to sort out her emerging identity by writing a story about a young woman doing the same–just with death gods and ghosts.

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Love and Loss: Remembering Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Part 2

“If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.” ~Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I’ve cried twice in my life at the news of an author’s death. The first time was when I was in high school and a friend walked up to me and said, “That author you like just died.” When I realized she meant Isaac Asimov, I started crying right there, in the middle of lunch, in front of hundreds of uncaring classmates (a fact that did little to make my misunderstood soul any more understood by my peers.)

The second time is just over two weeks ago when I woke from a restless night to read that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. The cover of Love in the Time of Cholera still conjures a clear memory of me perched in my studio apartment devouring the novel over the course of two sun-drenched summer days, the rising heat lending a dreamy quality to the passing hours. I remember reading that famous last line, “Forever, he said” and feeling that I was quite simply drunk on love, on language, on the bittersweet beauty of human experience. I immediately immersed myself in everything that Marquez had written, glorying in the sheer sensuality and song that underlies all his work.

love in the time of choleraIt’s been twenty some years since that first fateful encounter and, even as an avid reader, I have yet to encounter another author who can elicit that same heady blend of euphoria, grief, and breathtaking beauty. To read Marquez is to enter into a dream, both haunting and lovely, a world bordering on the impossible and brimming with promise. His titles alone—One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Of Love and Other Demons—are stories unto themselves evoking both the fantastical and the real while hinting at the profound themes explored within.

I am, of course, not alone in my adoration of Marquez’ works and news of his death was accompanied by tears the world over. Indeed, his influence on not only readers but also other writers can be seen far and wide—a fact that led me to think about those YA authors whose work captures the spirit of Marquez’s magical realism.

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We’ll Always Have Macondo: Remembering Gabriel Garci­a Marquez, Part 1

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe house, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.  The world was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Like so many others, I remember the day I cracked open a used copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and read the startling opening lines.  It was the summer between high school and college, and I was tucked into my dim bedroom, attempting to escape the heat, feeling slightly intimidated but also quite sophisticated as I flipped through to the first page of this literary juggernaut.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I remember reading the book in one huge gulp, though of course that’s not true.  What is true is that what I remember of the days that followed is reading the book, and very little else.

Both described at the same time how it was always March there and always Monday, and then they understood that Jose Arcadio Buendi­a was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.

one hundredI remember jotting down a short quote–“There is always something left to love”–and feeling like it meant something important.  And I remember hazily nearing the end and wondering what in the world I would do when I had to close the book, and then reaching the last page and the “fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble” swept through Macondo, wiping out the city and exiling it from the memory of men, but of course not really.  Not from our memories.  Instead, those final lines sent me searching for more more more more and I stumbled from Marquez to Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Jose Saramago, and my favorites,  Julio Cortazar and Carlos Fuentes.  I immersed myself in el realismo magico, despite my inability to read or speak Spanish, pushing the Interlibrary Loan system of the early 90s to its outer limits.  I started a small literary magazine–which I edited for almost a decade before it imploded in truly spectacular fashion with the idea of cultivating and promoting North American magic realism.

And when Gabriel Garci­­a Marquez died on April 17 all of this came tumbling out of the past and into the present and without thinking I cracked open One Hundred Years of Solitude, again but as always, for the first time.  The tributes started rolling in immediately, of course, numerous obituaries and remembrances, all with the same basic facts but different spins, depending on how much attention was paid to his politics rather than his writing.  A fair amount of ink (or pixels, I guess) was spent defining the term magic realism, despite the fact that Marquez himself eschewed definitions, famously insisting that his work was not fantastic and that everything in his books had happened to himself or an acquaintance.

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