The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye WaltonThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Published by Candlewick Press on March 27th 2014
Genres: Magical Realism, Young Adult
Pages: 320

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

3.5 Stars

“And that might just be the root of the problem: we’re all afraid of each other, wings or no wings.”

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is the sort of book that is difficult to describe. I can give you a list of adjectives: strange, beautiful, odd, whimsical, magical, different, unique, tragic, hopeful, melancholy…The book is all those things and so much more. It’s a novel you have to experience for yourself in order to understand its magic.

It’s about grief and loss, desire and hope. But most of all it’s a story about love; all kinds of love, familial and romantic, platonic and unrequited. 

“Just because love don’t look the way you think it should, don’t mean you don’t have it.”

Perhaps most importantly, it’s a book about accepting (or not accepting) others differences.

The novel is not – as the title suggests – a story solely about Ava Lavender, but her entire family, particularly the women. It spans multiple generations and thus comes across both as a historical fiction and a contemporary novel. I personally loved this about the book, the fact that we get different perspectives from different women who have all gone through their own traumatic events that have shaped their worldview. This makes the story feel more unique and you will come away thinking “I’ve never read anything like this before”.

What I probably loved most about the book was the writing style. It was breathtaking. Beautiful without being overly flowery, on the contrary, it was actually quite simple which made the whole story that much more effective. Leslye Walton is able to create an atmosphere that makes you feel like you are there, experiencing things with the characters. The way the author seamlessly interwove the magical realism elements was masterful and added to the story without distracting from what was actually important. It never felt contrived or unnecessary, instead the whole book felt natural, easy. It’s a quiet novel and it will make you ponder while simultaneously shocking you with the way it describes traumatic events with such simplicity.

Don’t be fooled by the premise: if you’re expecting a light-hearted contemporary you will not find it here. This novel is sad, it is tragic, it unflinchingly portrays the ugly and despicable aspects of life and people. It is at times uncomfortable.

To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost.

It reads a lot like a fairy tale, but the original tales, not the watered-down Disney versions.

Now, you are probably all (understandably) confused by my rating. Why only 3.5 stars? Because despite the fact that I appreciated this book a lot, I also had some problems with it, and those problems really affected my enjoyment of the book.

I never really felt like I was working towards something. There was no real plot and I never felt like the characters were going anywhere. It’s fine for a book to not be plot-driven, but then I need really interesting characters, which these just weren’t for me. They are complex, flawed, jaded. But I never felt attached to them and as result the book never quite found its stride.  There were lots of interesting ideas there, but they never came full-circle.

My other issue was concerning the women in this story. I could fully appreciate that this book was about women who were interesting, women who were independent and lived their own lives. But what I didn’t appreciate was that none of these women ever overcame their struggles. We have a woman who, in order to deal, starts eating to the point of excess, multiple women who just vanish because they couldn’t overcome the obstacles life put in their way, and a woman who is unable to get over a breakup for 15 years (for no discernible reason). I expected there to be some kind commentary on this lack of…triumph, but there was nothing! It just felt overly tragic to the point that the book made sad without actually moving me, which was a weird feeling. And then there was this one event that happened near the end which made me really angry because it didn’t seem to have a purpose. It was something too horrifying to be used so lightly and not be commented on.

Despite my quibbles I still think this is a book that many readers will love and appreciate. Strange and beautiful are two perfect words to describe the novel and I recommend it to those readers who are looking for something different.