The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, published September 2015 by Candlewick Press.
Goodreads Synopsis: 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, 16 year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive 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.
I spotted this book when it first came out in hardback, because the cover made me drool, but I never did get my hands on a copy. I’m not sure if I ever would have picked it up, if Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense hadn’t picked this as her book for The Transatlantic Book Project. Going into this read, I didn’t know very much about the book at all, even the fact the protagonist had wings was news to me! Walton could have taken a sci-fi route, but instead used heavy magical realism, which isn’t something I gravitate towards. I tend to either do contemporary, or full on fantasy, but rarely anything in between. Magical elements make sense to me in a fantasy setting, because they are supposed to be there, but magical realism doesn’t always work for me because the magical, and often downright odd, elements are inexplicable. Magical realism can be very hit or miss for me, and I had to put some serious thought into how I actually felt about The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.
The first, and most obvious, thing to say about this book, is how amazed I am that this is Walton’s debut. Whether magical realism works for you or not, there is no denying that this is a beautifully written story. Spanning three generations of Roux women, I loved the historical element to the tale, and the back stories we get for each character. The novel is told with a somewhat whimsical and dream-like tone, reminiscent of an adult/modern fairy tale. While the story is character driven, there is plenty of plot, and the book never really drags at any point – it’s well paced and has an element of mystery throughout, which is intensified by some seriously ominous foreshadowing.
I’m still utterly confused in how I feel about the story overall. While it could drown you, at times, in tragedy, unfairness and grief, particularly when it comes to affairs of the heart, it could also be quietly uplifting, reassuring and occasionally hopeful. Throughout the majority of the story, we learn of the struggles of the women in the Roux family, and how most of their dire situations are either created by the men in their lives, or are as a result of falling in love. As someone who loves a good romance, I found this difficult to stomach. It paints a bleak picture, and at times came across as quite depressing. Thankfully, Rowe was on hand to offer some solace. My biggest concern is that our main character does suffer some traumatic circumstances, which were largely left unpunished, and that ultimately didn’t sit right with me.
“It seemed there was no separating the girl from the wings. One could not survive without the other.”
“Fate. Both my anguish and my solace. My escort and my cage.”
“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.”
“I just don’t think you should let other people d-define you, ” Rowe said quickly. “I think you could be anything you wanted.”
Have you read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender? Did you love it, or have issues with it? Let me know in the comments!