The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
By: Leslye Walton
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2014
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.
“Why are you crying?” My roommate asked, somewhat concerned. In response, I held up this book, still sniffling a little. She continued to look at me, a little puzzled. “What,” she asked, “do you expect from a book that has the word sorrows on the cover? Did you actually think it would be happy?”
Amazingly, this book actually does have a happy ending, but it is also liable to leave one with tears gushing down one’s cheeks. Trust me, I know. It is a glorious, painful exploration of what love is and what it does to us, and it is a book that is difficult not to love.
I fell in love with this book first, though, because of the magical realism. My spanish-teacher father had introduced me to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende in high school, and I loved the straightforward-yet-highly-nonsensical way they dealt with magic. A character could just be born with green hair, or have an ash cross permanently marked on their foreheads, and no one else in the book seemed to blink an eye. Here, Leslye Walton uses it to add a heaping dose of whimsy to the book, as well as make it possible for Ava to have wings. I did, however, really enjoy it. I mean, is it possible for someone to not age? Or to turn themselves into a bird? Maybe not, but we can sure enjoy pretending that it is.
The same ‘let me tell you all about my really strange family’ vibe also feels straight out of Allende, at least from my point of view. The first half, at least, of the book is talking about Ava’s grandmother and her family, and then her mother. This is where the magical realism really comes into play, and I loved every minute of it. However, I’m not sure that it pulls the same punches as other books I’ve read with the same plot point. The entire point of Allende and Garcia Marquez is that horrible things happen no matter what, and that successive generations can’t escape. In Ava Lavender, however, I didn’t know how much that held true, except that love hurts everyone and you can get past it or not.
I did enjoy how well Ava Lavender portrayed love. It feels like every YA romance nowadays showcases that heady first love–which I understand, but I also get somewhat tired of. I liked how Leslye Walton portrayed sloppy, awful messes of love, though–even when they were sweet, they were strange, and in some way doomed. Until the end, that is, when everything clicks for all the different generations of people who had messed love up. I enjoyed, in a slightly messed-up way, reading about everyone whose experience with love was also messed up.
Despite that, the first time I read this I was confused–it felt like there was a deeper understanding to the book that I just wasn’t getting. The second time I read Ava Lavender, especially having glanced at the dedication, I thought I understood more. Although I’m not 100% sure now, the book (well, Ava’s story) feels like a metaphor for rape. I think it’s vague, and you’re given the choice to read it that way or not, but I think it’s there. But I think how you read Ava’s story massively affects how you read the ending. Although Leslye Walton says there’s only one way to understand the ending, it actually is a bit vague. I think I was blubbering so much the first time around because I read the ending not as renewal, but as death. However, the second time around I paid attention to the foreward (as unnecessary as it is), and the dedication, and read it as new life. So I sobbed less this time.
But, ultimately, I still cried a little. It’s a lovely, bittersweet kind of book, one that will leave you feeling all the feels. But, at the same time, it’s a beautiful book that will, ultimately, also make you feel hope.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.