Melissa Albert Recommends YA Tales Where the Real World Gets Real Magical

Posted by Sharon on January 7, 2021
 
Melissa Albert burst onto the YA scene (and catapulted into readers' hearts) with her 2018 debut The Hazel Wood. This darkly fantastical novel that sets the Hinterlands, a mysterious fairytale world, beside our real one nabbed Albert a Goodreads Choice Award nomination in the young adult fantasy category.

After completing the duology with last year's The Night Country, Albert is back this month with an illustrated set of the twelve fairytales that made up the book-within-a-book central to The Hazel Wood's plot. Tales from the Hinterland lands in U.S. stores on January 12. Ahead of the book's release, we asked Albert to share with us her favorite YA novels that imbue the contemporary world with a hint (or a whole handful) of magic.

A lamp post casts its light over the snow in an otherworldly wood. Three children in night clothes swoop over the rooftops of London. A bored schoolboy comes home to a mystery package containing a tollbooth and a little toy car. 
 
Rate this book
Clear rating
From these fictional images (found in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Peter Pan; and The Phantom Tollbooth, respectively) sprang my obsession with the juxtaposition of the real and the unreal, the magical and the mundane. I love second-world fantasy, but my purest poison has always been books that infuse our world with magic, or conceal doors to other places inside it, waiting to be found. Novels are always portals to another world; novels with actual portals inside them is like eating a delicious pizza topped with smaller pizzas. (Bad metaphor? Accept this apology pizza.)
 
Here are ten recent books, nine YA and one adult pick I'm sneaking in as a rec for YA fans, that stir together fantasy and reality in irresistible ways. They're pizza all the way down.
​​

 
Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Stiefvater just might be the queen of marrying the real world with liminal spaces. I knew I'd love the first book in her new Dreamer trilogy, focusing on Raven Boy fan favorite Ronan Lynch, but I didn't know it would be the BOOK OF MY TWISTED DREAMS, hands down the most addictive thing I read in 2019. Set in a world of dream thieves and their relentless hunters, by turns mystical and brutally concrete, it's a hauntingly high-stakes tale painted in incandescent dream colors and shades of moral gray.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Power's sophomore novel opens with a vigil, unexplained: Margot, the watchful daughter of a chilly, secretive mother, lights a candle. Keep a fire burning, she's been taught. A fire is what saves you. But what is she being saved from? That's the question that carries Margot from the stifling apartment she shares with her mother to the small town of Phalene, where she plans to reunite with her estranged grandmother but first stumbles into a mystery: a girl with her own face, escaping a burning cornfield to die. And would you believe it gets creepier from there? Burn a candle, read this horror story by its flickering light.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Morrow first captivated me with her slender, power-packed Mem. In her debut YA she imagines a very real contemporary Portland—complete with high school headaches, social media influencers, and celebrity murder trials—with one major difference: magical creatures are real, and our heroine, Tavia, is hiding the fact that she is a siren in order to avoid the persecution that would follow discovery. The ground starts to shift beneath her when a beloved fashion influencer reveals her own siren identity—with terrible consequences—and when Tavia lets loose her secret at the most dangerous possible moment, her life will change forever.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Within the everyday confines of east L.A., another reality simmers: one of waking spirits, brujx magic, and the richly supernatural Latinx community Yadriel calls home. In his world, men raise the dead and women work as healers—and when his family questions Yadriel's gender, he raises a ghost to show them who he is. While the ritual is successful, it kicks off a fast-paced, tangled magical mystery, tightening tension of more than one kind, and—lest we forget!—a star-crossed romance with one very cute ghost boy. This one was on all the best-of-2020 lists for a reason.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Cajoleas is a master of that fever-dream feeling, as seen in this mood-drenched, Southern Gothic tale of love and possession. Very much against her will, sixteen-year-old Clare has recently been delivered from her demonic possessor. But the presence Clare knew only as Her wasn't a monster but a companion, as close to Clare as her own consciousness. Determined to retrieve her evicted demon, she finds herself walking an increasingly crooked path, through a small town infused with a terrifying occult history, and populated by forces—human and otherwise—far more wicked and deadly than her demon.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Ruby comes from a long line of powerful women, though their abilities have diminished since they left their Russian homeland. All that remains is a spark of their former magic, which might as well be a curse: each woman is destined, when she comes of age, to see a vision of who she’ll be at her time of death. Running from this ability and what it showed her is the reason Ruby’s mother abandoned her, and it’s the reason Ruby tries to numb herself to the pain of a life she can’t shape for herself. But when Ruby's aunt dies in a way that doesn’t fit her recorded vision, life's possibilities suddenly seem infinite...


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Arnold’s brilliant fourth novel, The Electric Kingdom, is on its way to break your hearts on February 9, but let's go back in time to his wickedly strange and fascinating third book, about a high school swimmer whose world goes sideways after he allows an eccentric classmate to hypnotize him at a party. When Noah comes to, his life has changed in subtle, inexplicable ways; his only reliable constant are his "strange fascinations," people he has never met but nonetheless finds himself compelled by. The book’s devastating payoff busts through a prime storytelling rule with the force of Kool-Aid Man crashing your birthday party, and the results are electrifying.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
Certain books just beg to be read aloud. McLemore writes prose you want to taste on your tongue, starting with their debut, The Weight of Feathers. Their latest novel is a riff on "The Red Shoes" told in two threads: in one, a dancing plague rips through 16th-century Strasbourg, endangering a Romani girl, Lavinia, on whom others are eager to heap the blame; in the other, the fever takes hold of another victim: contemporary Latinx teen Rosella, whose previous brushes with the supernatural include the "glimmer" of magic that infuses her hometown each October—and whose childhood friend, Emil, is one of Lavinia's descendants.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
This modern fairy tale isn't out till April 6, but I suggest you preorder it right now. Iris Hollow is one of three sisters who disappeared from a Scottish street, on New Year's Eve, under their parents' noses. When they reappear a month later, they're mid-transformation: their hair goes pale, their eyes go dark, their milk teeth are restored (shudder). They remember nothing of what happened to them, but as the years pass, Iris feels those missing days as a blight on her past and present. When her eldest sister goes missing, she and middle sister Vivi turn London inside out to find her, shaking free terrifying supernatural secrets about their own lives and hidden history as they go.


Rate this book
Clear rating
 
I'm going to sneak in ONE pick that isn't YA, but is centered on the coming of age of two young women: Harriet, now a concerned, magical-gingerbread-baking mother but still very much the searching daughter of her own forceful forebear; and her daughter, Perdita, whose fascination with Harriet's past—in particular her uncanny, unfindable friend, Gretel—proves to be very dangerous. A semi-grounded-in-reality London setting is woven in with fictional European spaces, in a mesmerically strange story that both satisfies as the story of three generations of resourceful women, and chimes with deeper, weirder resonances as an investigation into the alluring power of gingerbread—and all magically dangerous food and drink—in the pages of fairy tales.


What are your favorite YA novels that blend contemporary reality with magic? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out more recent articles:
January's Most Anticipated YA Books
56 of the Most Anticipated Young Adult Books of 2021
Goodreads Members Share the Books They've Been Rereading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Molly (new)

Molly O'Neill Why have the comments been deleted?


Amy "the book-bat" Good list for me... added 4, already had 5 on my TBR... only one I haven't added is the Maggie Stiefvater one since I haven't read any of the Raven Boys novels yet. So 9/10 on my TBR is pretty good (and I've already read one of them)


message 3: by Carly (new)

Carly Molly wrote: "Why have the comments been deleted?"

Probably a lot of men angry that there aren't enough male authors in the list. That's what I usually see in comment sections on lists like this. Or possibly transphobic comments, I believe at least one of the books on here features a trans character, maybe even written by a trans author if I'm remembering correctly.


message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Amy "the book-bat" wrote: "Good list for me... added 4, already had 5 on my TBR... only one I haven't added is the Maggie Stiefvater one since I haven't read any of the Raven Boys novels yet. So 9/10 on my TBR is pretty good..."

I really like the Raven Cycle series; I listened to the audiobook which is very well done. All of the characters grab your attention. I am now on the spin-off trilogy: Dreamer.


back to top