Book Review # 21: The Strange Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Number of Pages: 301
Date Published: March 27, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
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.
My reactions after reading the first few chapters range from there’s no way this book is a debut, to this is too damn beautiful, to how is this book not yet a bestseller?
Background: Ava Lavender was born with utmost peculiarity. Upon her shoulder blades sprang forth a set of wings. Some regarded this as a form of divinity, others as something to be feared. While everyone else pondered about their own misconceptions, all Ava ever wanted to be was a girl, just a girl.
Her strangeness led Ava to believe that nobody in her family was spared of such oddity. Thus, she decided to trace her roots. Did everyone in the Lavender family glow with strangeness such as hers? Were her predecessors susceptible to such foolish acts of love? When will Ava ever experience being just a girl?
Well, love makes us such fools.
Have you all read this book? If you haven’t, you’re really missing out A LOT.
First plunge into the book and I’m all ready to sing praises to the writing: I’ve always enjoyed lyrical prose, but this one was a tad more delightful than those I’ve read in the past. It was very elegant. It focuses more on the lovely meanings of phrases rather than the common misuse of deep and off-putting words.
To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl.
The first of many autumn rains smelled smoky, like a doused campsite fire, as if the ground itself had been aflame during those hot summer months. It smelled like burnt piles of collected leaves, the cough of a newly revived chimney, roasted chestnuts, the scent of a man’s hands after hours spent in a wood shop.
There are no tragedies as beautiful as this one: Don’t panic. This is not a spoiler, I promise. What’s beautiful about Ava’s story is that it’s not only her story that’s worth the heartache. I was so engrossed in her mother’s story that I was slightly disappointed when it came to a temporary close. The stories don’t evoke the same emotions (for me at least). For instance, I felt afraid after reading about E’s siblings, hollow after E’s story, and heartbroken after every story that followed suit. Feeling a million different emotions contributes to a wonderful reading experience.
It’s strangely amusing for a book that has quite a number of characters: No dead air surrounds the characters, even the minor ones. This book reminds me so much of Beedle the Bard, and a lighter version of the Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s magical realism at its finest.
How everything falls into place: The story is weaved so beautifully. Despite reading about tragedy after tragedy, and one foolish act of love after another, Ava’s voice provides readers with a glimmer of hope. Is it possible for happiness to grow in the hearts of the lavender family? Don’t worry, regardless of the outcome, everything falls beautifully into place.
Lessons, themes: This story is a gift. The millions of emotions it evokes revolve under the simplest and most complex of themes. This novel tells us about fear, judgment, and love; about love and all its ugly and beautiful forms, the tragedy of falling in love, how difficult a task it is to fall out of love, and the outcomes of love – denial, foolish acts, numbness, pain, obssession, and ironically, and most importantly – unbearable happiness, when one settles into what can only be deemed true love.
Bonus points: Multiple mentions of french cuisine, baked goods, desserts, etc.
So much speculation about the ending: I won’t discuss my opinions. I want to keep spoiler warnings to a minimum. Suffice it to say that I viewed the ending in a very positive way. I try to tell myself that it’s the only explanation that makes sense. Well, deep down, I’m probably too heartbroken to think of other possibilities.
The shift in the atmosphere was intense during the last fifty pages: Not sure if I’m the only one who felt this, but rest assured, it’s not something to be bothered about.
Ghosts: Don’t read this if you don’t like slightly gruesome and eerie details about the dead.
I’m skipping the usual recommendation section because this book has taken my heart. I loved it so much that right now, I’m not quite ready to dive into another random read. I’m filled with intense longing, and sadness, as well as a bunch of other emotions I have no intention of identifying. This is a rather hasty conclusion but do me a favor, and read this book. I could only hope that its story stays in the hearts and minds of readers for a long, long time.
Favorite Quotes from The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Love makes us such fools.
I found it ironic that I should be blessed with wings and yet feel so constrained, so trapped. It was because of my condition, I believe, that I noticed life’s ironies a bit more often than the average person. I collected them: how love arrived when you least expected it, how someone who said he didn’t want to hurt you eventually would.
And that might just be the root of the problem: we’re all afraid of each other, wings or no wings.
Love, as most know, follows its own timeline. Disregarding our intentions or well rehearsed plans.
By this point Viviane Lavender had loved Jack Griffith for twelve years, which was far more than half of her life. If she thought of her love as a commodity and were to, say, eat it, it would fill 4,745 cherry pies. If she were to preserve it, she would need 23,725 glass jars and labels and a basement spanning the length of Pinnacle Lane.
If she were to drink it, she’d drown.