The best realistic fiction with a dollop of magic

Jill K. Sayre Author Of The Fairies of Turtle Creek
By Jill K. Sayre

Who am I?

Like most writers, I am extremely interested in the “what if” factor. What if food ingredients could make a person feel specific emotions? What if drinking from a spring in the woods could give you a superpower? What if fairies really do take care of and grow all plants and trees in the world? I love to read and write about ordinary people, living everyday life, who encounter threads of magic. Influenced by reading books in the genre of “magical realism,” I love to explore how a dab of magic can be used in realistic fiction to emotionally affect the characters and story arc.

I wrote...

The Fairies of Turtle Creek

By Jill K. Sayre,

Book cover of The Fairies of Turtle Creek

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Claire is a science-minded girl who has deep concerns about her brother who is away fighting in the Iraq War. When her quirky and estranged grandmother comes to live with her, Claire is even more uneasy—especially since the elderly woman believes in fairies. In fact, they are nearly all she talks about. However, it's through Grandma Faye's stories of being a thirteen-year-old in Dallas, Texas in the 1920s that teaches Claire about love, growing up, and the importance of believing in things only seen with her heart.

The books I picked & why

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman, Elise Hurst (illustrator),

Book cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Why this book?

The main character is an introverted young boy whose family struggles in his impoverished neighborhood, and he meets an older girl who shares the existence of a local “hellmouth” that she tames using intuitive magic. This book echoes why I’m a diehard Buffy the Vampire Slayer (television show) fan—it takes reality and adds a vortex of supernatural to the already difficult experience of growing up. Gaiman masterfully tells an emotional story, amplifying the feelings of safety and anxiety young people experience as they navigate their need to belong, decipher life, and deal with the family they’re born into. Only 171 pages, it is beautifully plotted with deep, connective meanings, imaginative dilemmas made of the supernatural, and poignant self-discovery.

Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen,

Book cover of Garden Spells

Why this book?

Sarah Addison Allen writes beautiful descriptions. Many of her books are set in the south, transporting to humid air, chirping cicadas, and food expressing love—Garden Spells is a wonderful example of southern literature with a twist of magic. Similar to two of my favorite movies, Simply Irresistible (food that makes people feel things) and Practical Magic (two sisters who use magic to deal with a difficult situation), this story is even more emotionally complex. Claire and Sydney give the reader insight into the downfalls of selflessness and how everyone has a unique gift to be embraced, not shunned due to worries about a “reputation.” And as a foodie myself, I love the idea of gardens and apple trees providing magical ingredients. 

The Astonishing Color of After

By Emily X.R. Pan,

Book cover of The Astonishing Color of After

Why this book?

Fifteen-year-old Leigh is struggling to deal with the mental illness of her mother, that ultimately led to her suicide. A talented artist, Leigh deals with her sorrow by keeping away from others, including her best friend, Axel. Yes, this starts out as a sad story about loss, but the emotional journey Leigh embarks on is full of the stunning culture of Taiwan as she gains a deeper understanding of herself and her mother’s life. Not only is the diction wonderful in this gorgeously written book, but the symbolism behind the red bird who comes to Leigh repeatedly, whom she believes is her mother, is mystically poignant. When I finished this book, I returned from a world far from Dallas and was left with a true feeling of hope.

Tuck Everlasting

By Natalie Babbitt,

Book cover of Tuck Everlasting

Why this book?

So, this book was made into two movies, the first in 1981 and the other in 2002, but I first experienced this story by reading the book when I was a young girl in sixth grade in 1978. I remember reading the epilogue over and over again—it broke my heart to think how the greed of one man could ruin something so magical. I pondered whether it was a blessing or a curse to live forever, and the town of Treegap felt like it could exist in any wooded place. Whenever I find myself in a thick forest, I still search for springs that bubble up from the ground, taking me right back to those emotions when reading this great classic.

Hour of the Bees

By Lindsay Eagar,

Book cover of Hour of the Bees

Why this book?

I am a retired sixth grade English teacher, and when I discovered this book, I knew my students would love it. Carolina is a 12-year-old girl who must leave her friends behind for the summer so that she and her family can move her elderly grandfather, Serge, to a nursing home. He lives in Albuquerque, and he talks about her late grandmother in mystical flashbacks that involve bees, a magical tree, and her grandmother’s wanderlust. Serge is an unreliable narrator because he has dementia, yet Carolina discovers clues that his crazy stories may be true. And even though I read this year after year with my students, I was moved to tears at the end. It reminds me of the importance of a family’s love and its roots.

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