Definition and Background
I recently read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (2015 Morris Award Finalist), after having had the ARC on my shelf for months (I’m sorry!) and being begged to by a coworker and about five students. I was amazed by the beautiful writing and loved the story. It also got me thinking a lot about family sagas and how they are such a big part of literature in general, but they don’t seem to appear much in YA. That said, anything that spans generations, like Ava Lavender, should feature and engage adults and teens alike.
Another interesting thing about these stories is that family sagas tend to center around women or follow a woman’s line in a family, when we all know that in general, Serious Literature is about (white) men. And yet books like The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende or Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman get critical acclaim anyway. That is seriously feminist.
Did I mention that these books are also subversive when it comes to how they trick everyone into reading magical realism without complaining that they’re reading genre fiction? Genius, I tell you.
This is more of a subgenre than a genre, and this guide is something that could use fleshing out. Reading Ava Lavender whetted my appetite for stories of matriarchal families, but I can’t say that I’ve found many yet. That said, there are many adult authors who may satisfy teens, as well as some stories of young women going off on their own magical realism adventure, possibly to start the first branch of a matriarchal family tree.
As mentioned, these stories tend to employ magic realism elements, and they most commonly come out of traditions that support these notions as par for the course, such as folklore and history from Latin America, West Africa, and the American South. However, that’s not always true, as Ava Lavender itself shows. Often there is a sort of quest or journey involved. Rather than love stories, these tend to be about love lost or love cursed, with an element of destiny attached to that. Family, either born or created, is what ties characters together. Mother-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter, and sister relationships are key. There are some authors who accomplish this type of storytelling through book series, and I’ve noted a few below (you could even count Tamora Pierce’s entire Tortall universe as a big family epic), but in general, I think it’s most interesting when all of these relationships between family members and generations happen in one novel. Continue reading Genre Guide: Matriarchy, Magical Realism and Family Sagas