When I first encountered magical realism in college, it was through assigned reading of the Latinx Greats (Marquez, Allende, etc). But A.S. King brings this touch of the magical-taken-for-granted to a modern big city in the USA with a girl named Sarah who at 16 years of age is dropping out of high school. She wanders the city, stalks a homeless guy, goes into another abandoned school, rides the bus, and avoids her parents (father works during the day, mother is a night nurse).
At first she seems aimless and schizophrenic, especially when she begins talking to a 10 year old Sarah. But layer by layer, including the POV of the mother at times, we see everything is not what it seems. Something happened to Sarah at school, and something was happening to their family that drove Sarah’s brother away that no one will acknowledge. And the appearance of 10 year old Sarah may not signal mental illness.
Despite the painful and sad nature of Sarah’s family, and the way she was treated at school, this is a hopeful book. The love and relationships between Sarahs, and her brother and her mother are tender and supportive despite the pain. And the way A.S. King paints a picture of Sarah’s slow realizations about what she has chosen to forget and the real reasons she is truant seems to me to contain truth about how a victim might come to self-realization about what they’ve suffered.
And that’s what Magical Realism at its best does for us: allows us to realize painful things about ourselves by adding a touch of the fantastic. This book was fantastic, but not for everyone. You’ll have to be open to the ambiguity caused by Sarah’s unreliable narration.