Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Posted March 19, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 12 Comments


The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

 by Leslye Walton

 strange and beautiful sorrows of ava lavender

Expected Publishing Date: March 25, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Candlewick

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:


the story morning glory

 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. 




2 Stars

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12 responses to “Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

  1. I still need to read this one but it sounds like I may have issues with it as well…. That IS good to know going in though! I guess I won’t expect Ava Lavender to be there right off the bat but… ah. Well, I have it so I do still need to read it. We’ll see haha!
    Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

    • Stormy

      It’s rather strange. I’ve seen some really positive reviews because of the beautiful writing, and I’ll give it that, but the story line just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t a bad book by any means, but I felt rather unaffected by it all.

  2. Cait

    I really didn’t get on well with this book at all. 🙁 I feel bad because it did read beautifully, it was just…characters are a HUGE deal for me. And this was so impersonal to everyone. I mean, wasn’t Ava like 15% of the book or something? (Okay, maybe a bit more than that, but still.) It was like having a story thrown at my face instead of getting submerged. And yeah, it was so not very YA-ish. Eh. I don’t even know WHAT it really was.

    • Stormy

      Yeah. I actually marked where Ava showed up and it was like 45% through the e-ARC–almost halfway! It was very much too “family saga” for me! I don’t tend to enjoy those stories.

  3. I have to be in the right place mentally for these contemplative, kind of off-the-wall books. Majority of the time, I want intense feelings or fluff or fun characters but I don’t want to have to figure out why someone just turned into a canary (or whatever). That said, sometimes they’re really good, but I think it’s a difficult genre to write.

    Magical realism is wonky anyway, but if you’re going to write a book that doesn’t follow logical rules, you’ve got to at least have fabulous writing or characters or something to keep the reader. The best one I’ve read was “The Kitchen Daughter” by Jael McHenry, and the hook for it was that the MC has Asperger Syndrome and it really dives into her life, her adulthood, and her relationship with her sister.

    • Stormy

      I think this book is *technically* good, but I didn’t enjoy it, so that’s always sort of a hard line to walk when reviewing, I think. You don’t have to figure out why the character turned into a canary, if that helps. It’s just sort of. . . accepted.

  4. Defining YA is a controversial topic. My online SFF book club read Among Others by Jo Walton that had a teenage protagonist. There was a major debate about whether it was YA or not.

    Sorry to hear that this book didn’t work out for you even though the prose was good.

    • Stormy

      My creative writing class also attempted to define YA last year. One thing we really all agreed on was narrative distance–there’s not much of it in YA, whereas in non-YA books that features teenage MCs, there’s quite a bit of it. I think that might be what got me here–there’s such distance between Ava and the narrator, especially considering she isn’t even around until 40% through the story.

    • Stormy

      There’s definitely some character development, and it’s character-focused, but I wanted more. Also, more plot!

  5. It’s probably marketed as YA because that’s where the money is right now. I think. I can’t stand it when books are marketed as YA when they really shouldn’t be, though. Stop fooling me! I really like the sound of this, with the beautiful prose and the magical realism. My coblogger would LOVE it, I’m sure! I’m more of a plot person, though, so maybe this isn’t for me.

    • Stormy

      Yeah, that’s true. It’s just more of the “family saga” type story, and considering the main character doesn’t even make an appearance until 40% in, it felt weird to me! Also, there was quite a bit of narrative distance, which I think affected my enjoyment.

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