The recent release of the last Harry Potter book created quite an uproar. It’s rare when a book release causes as much excitement in the world at large as it does in the library world. What is it about Harry Potter that makes it such an international phenomenon? One reason might be that people really want to believe in magic, and the characters feel real enough that readers can imagine themselves as part of the wizarding world.
Since it has been a few years since Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults created a list of fantasy titles, and we’d never done a list that focused on urban or contemporary fantasy, this year the committee decided to tackle that genre. The Magic in the Real World list will consist of books where the characters could be real people and, if one suspends disbelief just a little bit, one can imagine that the magic is real too. Every book I read for this list has made me a little more willing to believe that there really could be fairies living in the park, that the shimmer I saw out of the corner of my eye might be a portal into another world and if I put a little effort into it, I’ll be able to make friends with the elves who live next door.
Determining what exactly fits into this list is a little tricky. For example: are books about vampires fantasy? How about werewolves? Are books that take place in Victorian England urban fantasy, or a different type of fantasy? What about books that take a normal, mundane human and transplant them in a fantasy world? These are just some of the questions we discussed at ALA Annual. What we ended up deciding was that we’re looking for contemporary (not historical) fantasy that is broader than just urban, while omitting titles with elements that are traditionally considered horror (no vampires, ghosts or werewolves). We had an interesting discussion about humans performing magic with intent vs. creatures that are part human vs. wholly magical creatures – but that’s a whole other blog post.
The list of books we’ve nominated so far can be seen here. PPYA happily accepts field nominations, so if you know of a great contemporary fantasy written for teens or with teen appeal, please let us know! The nomination form can be found here. We’d also love to hear your thoughts about what you think “contemporary fantasy” means.