Author: Leslye Walton
Published: March 13, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
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“Love makes us such fools.”My Thoughts
―Leslye Walton, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
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. (Goodreads)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was not at all what I was expecting, and I mean that in the best possible way. There are many different directions I could have seen this book taking. I thought it would mainly be told in young Ava's time, with flashbacks scattered throughout as Ava uncovers more of her family history through research. Instead, this haunting tale is told chronologically, beginning at, well, the beginning, where Ava's family history takes a turn for the worst.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender tells the extraordinary tale of three generations of Roux women and the loves they have lost. Each of these women, from Ava's grandmother Emilienne to her mother Vivianne to Ava herself, has a dark story to tell, filled with suffering and heartache. Ava's family might as well be cursed, for all the hardships they have endured. Life has not been kind to these women, as family members die horribly, magically transform into birds, or turn into a pile of blue ash while fickle lovers make empty promises only to up and leave for someone else. In some ways, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender resembled one of my favorite movies, Practical Magic, as both tell a story of generations of women who see love as more of a curse than a blessing, except this book takes a much darker turn towards the end.
The writing in The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is breathtakingly beautiful, and I wanted to savor each page instead of madly racing to the end. And the emotions; there were just so many emotions pouring through me as I read this. I felt everything the characters were feeling. When they lost someone or their heart was broken, I was hit by this gut punch of feeling and I could relate to their pain. And there is so much pain and sorrow and despair that I was an emotional mess by the end of this book. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is not for the light of heart, as we're introduced to these women at a young age when they are still innocent and naive, and then we watch as they're crushed by grief and sadness and the bleakness of reality. Suddenly, everything has a sinister edge to it, and it's hard to tell who is to blame for all of their troubles. Is it the person who hurt them or themselves for keeping false hope and refusing to let go?
Despite the darker parts of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, there is so much love shared between these women. Even if they have trouble showing how much they care, they are there for each other when the going gets tough. Their oddities can be off-putting, but they are also endearing. While their family is plagued by misfortune, they find happiness in the little things, and they strive for some sense of normalcy even if it is difficult to obtain. Ava has been regarded as a miracle and a mutant, among other things, but all she wants to be is a normal teenager going to normal parties with her friends. Spending time with her two close friends, Rowe and Cardigan, allows her to forget the bizarre qualities of her life. With them, she can actually feel like any other teenager for a little while. Emilienne also finds comfort in her bakery, and baking gives her an escape from any worries she might have.
While I thoroughly enjoyed The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I found the ending to be a little rushed. After events take a downward spiral, I was expecting to see Ava grow as an individual and to witness how she emerges from her troubles as a stronger Ava who eventually becomes the older Ava who narrates the story throughout. I thought the book ended abruptly, but maybe that's appropriate considering life is messy and there are many loose ends we cannot tie up neatly. This book does teach us that our expectations are hardly ever met, and it might be too predictable for the story to come full circle. Either way, I did want just a little more at the end. Other than these small complaints, I found The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender to be a heartbreaking, enchanting read that I would highly recommend.