The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton
Expected Publishing Date: March 25, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Obtained Via: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is no way influenced my final opinion of the work.
Format Read In: E-ARC
View from the Traffic Light:
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.
To start this review, I really have to ask: What makes a book YA? Is it just whatever book a publisher decides to market as YA?(often, yes). Is a book YA just because it’s written from the perspective as a teenager? I mean, most of the time, YA is, but there are some books that are not YA with protagonist that are teenagers for the majority of the novels that are not marketed as YA. My rambling on this is just to say that The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender does NOT read like a YA book. And while I enjoy all sorts of genre, I do feel it sort of strange this book as marketed as YA.
For one, the title character doesn’t really appear into 40% through the novel, and the entire time there feels to be a great distance between the narrator and the events taking place. This is Ava Lavender’s story in a sense, but it’s also her family’s. The entire first half of this book, Ava isn’t even born yet–the book follows her grandmother’s story, including a relative that turns into a canary.
While I found the story of Ava Lavender’s story engaging and mysterious in the best possible way, I felt less connected to the book once the main action actually began. The weaving of words in this book is wonderful–positively beautiful writing, and it’s the only reason I kept going, since I can’t say I actually enjoyed the story or thought it seriously compelling. This book may not have been my cup of tea, but I will read anything Walton writes in the future just for the lyrical sentences.
In the end, this book tested my “Did I like it?” test for the purpose of rating and reviews. I’m not sure I enjoyed reading it at the time, but I loved the writing and I enjoyed having read it. The lovely writing and perfect ending really made me close this book with a sense of satisfaction. There is a plot, though thin, so the story did always feel moving toward something. In short, I am conflicted on my thoughts.
I do really like the magical realism of this book–it’s not a genre that normally appeals to me, because sometimes I have trouble suspending disbelief in the hazy world where magic and ordinary meet. The person-turning-into-a-canary certainly shocked me for a moment, but nothing after that took me out of the story. When Ava Lavender was born with wings, it wasn’t strange to me(well, no more than it was supposed to be). However, with the magical and strange being a focused of the book, I felt the characters suffered. I loved hearing the stories of Ava’s mom and grandmother and relatives–those characters seemed as real as the bread from the bakery that is a large setting of this story. But when Ava comes along, those characters seem to become nothing but symbols.
Here is what I do know: I loved the writing, I thought the story was strange but made sense in context, and I think it is a good book, but in the end, I don’t think I can honestly say that I liked it.
I thought The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was a book full of beautiful prose, weird and often wonderful things, but that lacked depth to many of the characters and that I didn’t really enjoy. I liked the magical realism elements more than I thought I would, but I can’t say I truly enjoyed the story. I’ll read whatever Walton writes next, but this book wasn’t for me. 2/5 stars.