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Katrina Leno's Use of Magical Realism

This is a little different from my typical content, but this is an analysis of Katrina Leno's use of magical realism in her novels and how they reveal deeper meaning. But before the analysis is a short spotlight on Leno's books.

Katrina Leno's novels

Katrina Leno has published six books since 2014. All of her books are YA contemporaries but some are more of a mystery. Each of the books has some degree of magic, however each book becomes progressively more magical. Below is a short synopsis of each of the books and my personal thoughts on the book if I have read it. If you want more information, simply click on the title of the book and it will send you to that book's Goodreads page.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce (2014)

In this mystery, Molly has lived a life where she seems to have forgotten numerous secrets in her life. However, suddenly, she is able to remember and what she finds out is much different from what she originally thought.

The Lost & Found (2016)

Frannie and Louis met online and don't know what each other look like. However they do know that they both have the tendency to lose things. But are they disapearing? This is a story about connections, family, and unexpected journeys.

Everything All at Once (2017)

Lottie Reeves is a shy, anxious person who likes to stay in her own personal bubble. Taking risks is not her thing. Her aunt, is the writer of a famous book series, and she has written Lottie a series of letters before she died. In these letters she gives Lottie a series of mini dares for her to complete to get her out of her comfort zone. These mini adventures send Lottie on a journey towards an extraordinary secret.

This was really chill read that was quick, had a little bit of magic, and was in general really unique. I really liked how each chapter ended with an excerpt of the books that the aunt wrote. It made me really want to read the aunt's books. It was very fast and just a generally very light, fluffy read, perfect for the beach or an afternoon.

Summer of Salt (2018)

There is magic in the Fernweh family. Mary Fernweh has the ability to defy gravity, but her twin sister Georgina Fernweh still hasn't gotten her powers yet. They live on the island of By-the-Sea, a place where tourists come every year to see a 300 year bird nest. But weird stuff is happening on the island and the bird has not come yet. This is a very magical, where Georgina will learn the truth about magic in all its many forms.

This was beautiful, hard hitting, suspenseful, interesting... basically, almost perfect. Some parts were somewhat confusing, but how Leno pulled everything together was so beautiful and magical that it’s hard to not give this 5 stars.

You Must Not Miss (2019)

Imagine being able to conjure up whatever you want, whenever you want. Magpie has created a world called Near, where she is able to make whatever she wants. In this world she has created, everything is perfect and all the family issues are nonexistent. But is this a good thing? And what happens when you start to use this power for revenge?

I honestly really didn't like this one because I couldn't stand the main character. However I still like the concept of the book.

Horrid (2020)

This contemporary horror novel, Leno looks into the themes of mental illness through a haunting story about a mansion that has many secrets hiding behind its doors. When Jane finds what is actually hidden behind the supposed storage room door, the secrets being hidden must be found, but the truth may not be what she was expecting or wanting...

Katrina Leno's use of magical realism analysis

The story an author tells is often a reflection or a glimpse into their own life. The author Katrina Leno, author of five young adult titles, demonstrates this with her use of magical elements in all of her books. In each of her books, the main character often deals with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Through the magical elements in the book, Leno is able to illustrate the emotions and conflicts that often arise from these types of issues while simultaneously keeping the story entertaining. 

In her 2019 release, You Must Not Miss, the main character Magpie is a social outcast. Her sister ran away from home leaving only her and her alcoholic mom to fend for themselves. To cope with the pain of this reality, Magpie starts writing in a yellow notebook she calls Near where everything is perfect and life is as it was previously. Very soon after the start of the book, Magpie discovers that Near is a real place and not just words scrawled in her notebook. After her discovery, she uses Near as a place to retreat to since anything she wishes can come true there. In this story, the idea of a world being created from writing in a notebook and that can be accessed through her garage is the magical element. By including this magical element in this story, Leno is able to visually demonstrate a life that has no problems and is controlled by one’s desires. 

The year previously, Leno published a book called Summer of Salt that has a lot of commentary about depression and coming of age. Georgina Fernweh is the youngest of the Fernweh family and is still impatiently waiting for her magical power to come. Each of the Fernweh women get a certain magical power by the age of 18, however it must be discovered by the woman herself. At the same time, Georgina’s home, an island called By-the-Sea, is at peak tourist season because of a special bird that comes and nests on the island each year. The meat of the story is a mystery about why the bird has yet to come to nest and also Georgina coming into herself, trying to discover her magical ability, and thinking about leaving home. By the end of the book the conflicts are resolved and Georgina discovers that her emotions control the weather. This is played out multiple times in the book but the explanation doesn’t come until the end. The use of magical elements in this plot is to demonstrate the struggles of finding one’s true self. Georgina worried whether she would find her magical ability, like a person may struggle to fully figure out her own identity.  

In these two novels, Katrina Leno uses magical realism as a means to convey much deeper messages. They shed light on some of her own personal struggles, such as depression and anxiety, which she has openly discussed in a Q&A but are also seen in her novels. The magical elements also illuminate human struggles and general emotional roller coasters one faces in life. In You Must Not Miss, Magpie’s alternate reality shows that even lives without problems aren’t perfect, since in the end Magpie’s greed overtakes her and she uses her power to manipulate everything in Near to destroy everything in life that has caused her pain. In Summer of Salt, the use of magical powers and discovering one’s magical powers can show a deeper meaning of self discovery. In addition, Georgina’s sister found her magical power very early on in life which caused extra stress and unrest for Georgina because she still had yet to find hers. The use of magical elements is Leno’s way of creating deeper meaning and layers, but also a personal touch and experience to her novels.

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