Genre 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.
Afterworlds – 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.