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.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderFeatured Hot
A story of heartbreak, but ultimately one of love
This book is so incredible, yet so difficult to describe. It is told through the eyes of teenage Ava Lavender, born under the strangest of circumstances and possessing a pair of dappled wings. The story follows her great grandparents as they immigrate to America anticipating an easy life and streets paved with gold. It continues through the life of Ava's grandmother Emilienne and tells the tale of her 4 great loves, all of whom came to a disastrous end. The torch is then passed to Ava's mother, Viviane who experiences the loss of a beautiful love and is left with a pair of twins: Ava with the wings of an angel and Henry who rarely emerges from the world in his mind. The entire family is both blessed and cursed with an ethereal strangeness that follows from one generation to the next. It is a story of heartbreak, but ultimately, one of love.
Leslye Walton's writing style is simply magical. When I venture into the world of adult books, it tends to be in the genre of magical realism like Sarah Addison Allen's books. It is not a genre that I tend to encounter often in YA novels and I was surprised to see how well it lends itself to the novel. That being said, there are some elements that made me wonder if this should really be considered YA. There are descriptions of women's breasts, male masturbation, sex between teens and rape that might make some younger readers (and their parents) uncomfortable.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender features some of the most unique characters that I have encountered. Nearly all of them, including the side characters, are well developed and easy to fall in love with, or easy to pity. Ava served as our omniscient narrator and was wonderful in this role. There is a sweet sadness in the characters that is not easy to accomplish. None of the characters wallowed in self pity, forcing to reader to lose patience, it was clear that they were in pain, but they eventually pushed forward with life. A particular favorite of mine was Gabe, the stoic man who stood by Viviane and helped raise her strange and wonderful children in the hope that she might one day turn her head his way and realize that he had been there all along.
Throughout the novel, we see love found and love lost and the impact that it can have. The novel features young love in its sweetest and most heartbreaking of forms. We watch as these characters, with whom we ourselves have fallen in love with, suffer the pain of a broken heart and, eventually, discover that, despite their scars, love is still waiting. With this phenomenal debut novel, I am officially signing up for anything else Leslye Walton has in store for us.
Strange and Beautiful, Indeed
My love affair with magical realism continues. There is just something that’s more fantastical about the real world we live in being filled with these odd strains of magic than the most epic of fantasy worlds. Magical realism sends my mind into paroxysms of joy and imagination. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is very much what its title says it will be: strange, a bit sorrowful, and immensely beautiful.
Most of the time, I’m a character-focused reader. If I’m not bonded strongly with the characters, I’m generally not going to care that much what’s happening. Every so often though, either the writing or a mind-blowingly clever plot will draw me in and engage me almost as much as character can. That is what happened with Leslye Walton’s gorgeous prose. Her writing charmed me immediately, complex, full of scintillating vocabulary, and perfectly matched with the tale being told.
Walton’s tale is, admittedly, a strange one. Magical realism is often pretty light, with just one or two small elements, but Walton’s world is quite magical. See, it all centers on Ava Lavender’s family tree, which consists of oddly remarkable people. One of her ancestors turned into a canary and another has an absurdly powerful sense of smell, so much so that she can even smell emotions. Ava herself is born with a pair of wings. Probably you can tell if magical realism is your thing or not. Either you will be frustrated because none of this is explained or you’ll want to imagine that such things could happen in the world you live in.
The narrative itself is odd as well, all told in the first person as though Ava is looking back on her life and telling the reader what happened. What makes this odd is that Ava knows about things she couldn’t possibly have known about, which is another sort of strange magic to the tale. To talk about herself, Ava goes back to her greatgrandmother and works down through the family tree.
Much of the novel is spent talking about Ava’s mother, possibly even more time than is spent on Ava. The blurb makes the book sound like it centers on Ava, and it both does and doesn’t. I get why they did that (to market more directly to YA audiences), but it’s certainly misleading. Everyone in the family is equally interesting to me, though, so I didn’t mind jumping from character to character.
In fact, I think what happened in some of Ava’s plot line is probably the only thing that left me cold. Her story with Nathaniel Summers was uncomfortable, and not necessarily in a good way. However, I really loved everything else, wanting to absorb the beauty of the book into myself. Also, both Ava and Viviane’s ships are completely adorable slow burns with guys who do not fit the typical love interest stereotypes.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender will likely appeal to those who enjoyed the films Big Fish, Practical Magic, or Chocolat. I hate comparison marketing, but I was thinking of all three and comparisons can be helpful if they’re true. So I just hope you all don’t think I’m bonkers.
Magical Realism at its Best
"Love makes us such fools."
Ava Lavender’s family has a history of tragic love stories. Her great-grandmother, Maman; grandmother, Emilienne; and mother, Viviane’s stories are all told through this generational saga exploring themes of love and love lost.
And then there is Ava, the girl born with wings, where the story truly takes shape. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is magical realism at its best.
“Older” Ava, our narrator, opens with a powerful prologue that instantly hooked me and set the perfect tone for the novel. She navigates through her family’s history—along with her own—with a lyrical prose that maintains a whimsical and traditional fairy tale feel despite the sorrowful themes. She tells multiple stories of not only her family, but of others who indirectly crossed paths with the women of the Roux/Lavender family, adding to the surreal experience. There are disappearing people, ghosts, birds, and a subtle magical thread weaving it all together that never feels logical nor out of place. There are times where I wasn’t sure if what Ava was telling me were true or fabrication, but it held an addictive quality that urged to me continue turning page after page late into the night.
The theme of love was an interesting one because while it does include stories of men and women, Walton, focuses primarily on the women of the Roux/Lavender family and the long term effects their failed relationships and mistreatment of men had on them. I’m not entirely sure if this was intentional or not, but my mind couldn’t ignore the common situations many women in real life go through depicted in the novel: loveless marriage, single parenting, sexual abuse, etc. For each of the women, naïveté is both their charm and curse. It’s their hope, willingness to give their hearts freely and complete trust that leads to their heartbreak. Ava is different from the other women since she appears to be more cautious due to her sheltered upbringing, however, even that ultimately leads to her downfall.
The villain felt both literal and metaphorical for me as a reader and where I feel the novel shines the brightest. There is a physical antagonist in the form of an evangelical stalker obsessed with Ava and her wings. But on a deeper level the villain also manifests as the women’s own sorrows and their inability to heal and move on from the past situations that led to so much pain. It leaves them broken, isolated from the community and guarded even from each other. It isn’t until “Younger” Ava’s tragedy that we start to really see a change in that aspect.
If I have one form of criticism it’s that I was hoping to find out more about “Older” Ava. Much of the novel involves relating “Younger” Ava’s family history all the way until after the climax, but we never really have a glimpse into what becomes of “Older” Ava. The prologue asks the question of where she came from she is since she’s born with wings and I was searching desperately for that answer, but it never came. Or at least in the way that I thought it would. But that’s just part of the novel’s charm—its answers always slightly out of reach, constantly maintaining the air of mystery. Perhaps there wasn’t an answer to actually give or it was just another metaphor for the family’s struggles. Or maybe what I really need to do is re-read the book because clearly Walton’s novel is not yet done with me.
Overall, I’m both impressed and dazzled by Leslye Walton’s debut. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a novel that has so many layers that it demands your attention. Written with the finesse of a seasoned writer, it’s stunning, magical, strange and, of course, very beautiful. Highly recommended.
You know when you catch a TV show you haven’t ever seen, but it's been playing for years? The kind when you just so happen to stop on a channel and it is intriguing and you like the hero’s face and funny one-liners so you Google it, and Google turns into Netflix and Netflix turns into buying everything on Amazon?
Then, you have 8 seasons to catch up on (Supernatural) or your friend only bought the first season and you have to watch the new ones on ABC (Once Upon A Time) or you watch both seasons on Netflix and have to wait two whole damn years for the next season (Sherlock). But you can’t watch it every second of every day like you wanted to because you have to work or see Catching Fire or attend family Thanksgiving‘s.
And my personal battle—the Netflix plan being DVD only. Cause I live out where wifi is almost nonexistent. (Seriously, think The Last House on the Left without a sexy, uh I mean creepy, Aaron Paul and no lake. Just fields and forests and a Verizon mifi Jetpack that sometimes works because this is apparently a dominant AT&T zone).
THAT is what reading this book was like. I wanted to devout my life to it. But, with an 8 hour work day and the fact that I must have 8 hours of sleep or else I will be a raging bitch in heels, I was cut down to a half hour of reading or less in the 4 days I read the The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.
It is absolutely strange and beautiful. Don’t take the title for granted.
We meet the title character, Ava, in the first paragraph, but it isn’t her story until about 50% into this book. I mean, in a way, it is her story. It’s an unusual buildup to her current life. She is narrating it, but it is truly a tale of atypical generations.
It is probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I, however; loved it. It was this perfectly strange mix of beautiful, lyrical prose and peculiar, original characters. Combining those two and you obviously have an interesting book. No doubt, I was hooked from the minute a baby was born with wings.
More than anything, this is a story about family. A beautifully woven, heartbreaking tale centered on a family who, in their own way, will always be the strongest love they find.
There isn’t a single thing in this book that was unnecessary. No character went unnoticed or underappreciated. Every little detail fell in sync with the ultimate ending.
And I absolutely loved it. Every single thing. I loved when it made it me giggle or smile at something clever. I loved when it made me cry. And believe me, I cried. Every tiny, perfect sentence that I soaked in and held until I was sure I would never forget it.
And that’s the best thing about The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. You will never forget it.
I’ve thrown the world “perfect” around a couple of times. I guess that’s it. Perfect. This book is perfect.