Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Genre: Magical Realism/Romance
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.
Wow. What can I say about this book other than wow? While reading it, I often felt like there was little plot to follow, but the characters and the writing and the magicalness of it all made that seem almost irrelevant, at least to me. If all books in the magical realism genre are like this, then I think I’ve found a new genre to love.
This is not a very fast-paced and plot-furthering book. Ava is barely around for the first half of the book – it’s mostly a family history, spanning her grandmother and mother’s lives before she was even a thought, let alone the “angel baby” making their lives interesting. This book reminded me of what I like about some adult books – the meandering and comfortable writing that’s even more character-focused than some character-focused YA books. And sometimes it was easy to forget that this was a YA book – some of this book, including some of the romantic scenes, seemed a lot more adult than YA. Things changed slightly when the focus shifted to Ava, but this still seems like this book is aimed at a much older YA audience. Maybe it’s written with the many adults who enjoy YA in mind – it has some elements that adult books have, but the themes that people want from YA books.
So, if you want a fast book, this isn’t the book for you. That’s not to say that it’ll take you forever to read it. I think I read at least half or so of it in just one day because I wanted to see what would happen and such. It was very readable in a poetic and beautiful way. I know that technically all books that aren’t written in verse or other special ways are prose novels, but something about the writing in this book seems much more worthy of being called “prose,” rather than simply writing. I’m not much of a quote-taker, but if you like writing down every quote that gets to you, you’ll probably find at least a few in this book.
I was sometimes surprised with how dark this book got. On Goodreads, I mentioned that this book was fascinating, but also quite dark and a little depressing – and that was in the first 20 or so pages. There were plenty of dark moments and times when I think I would have been really, really sad if the writing wasn’t so beautiful and distracting me. There are definitely strange and beautiful sorrows in Ava, and the rest of her family’s, life.
The magical realism was interesting, but there were times I wish they were acknowledged more and explained. Maybe I’m just the type of person who needs things explained. So, the fact that I was able to ignore the small questions running through my head every once in a while is a testament to what a breath-taking book this was.
When I finished, I wasn’t quite sure what to rate this book. Objectively, I think I would have rated it 4 stars, but the writing and characters wowed me so much that I went with my feelings and gave it 4.5 stars instead. This was just such an interesting debut and I can’t wait to see what Leslye Walton will come up with next.