Books, Reviews

REVIEW | The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Lesleye Walton

REVIEW | The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Lesleye WaltonThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Published by Candlewick Press on March 27th 2014
Genre: Magical Realism, Young Adult
320 pages
Goodreads page

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

The first half of this book had me totally enthralled… but by the end, I was struggling to make myself finish.

Compelling magical realism

Lesleye Walton deals with some tough topics in this book – sexual violence, physical brutality, murder – and she has an excellent ear for when subtle implication packs the greatest emotional punch. The story never ceased to surprise me as it moved across the continents, displaying in each generation “all the scars love’s victims carry”. Important, too, is the warning against magnifying a person’s physical difference over the person herself.

Some issues with the story’s POV

Ava’s mostly-omniscient narration gives the story a wonderfully knowing, wistful tone. Although I loved having a window into characters’ minds at just the right time… the inconsistency bothered me. If she’s doing all this narration in retrospect, how exactly does she know the intimate details of her ancestors’ secret thoughts, hopes, regrets? How did she overhear private conversations had out of her earshot?

Characters’ thoughts are presented as fact, not as conjecture pieced together from surviving evidence. There’s no in-world magical realism explanation for why she’d be extraordinarily perceptive. I kept trying to ignore this inconsistency, but it kept popping back up to annoy me.

Lost me at the halfway mark

Maybe this book is just mis-titled. The first half is a delightfully sprawling epic following the earlier three generations of Ava’s family… and then it shifts into Ava’s cloistered teenage life.

I kept expecting Ava herself to do something interesting, to make an interesting choice, anything… but she mostly just sits and pines until she gets viciously attacked. The most important event in her story feels like it happens to her. After all that multi-generational buildup, I found this terribly disappointing. Older Adult Ava, who speaks briefly in the prologue, sounds like she’s had a fascinating life, and I wished I could have heard more about the journeys she’s taken.

As another minor nitpick: I didn’t understand the purpose of Fatima Inês. She was wonderfully atmospheric, but seemed to have no purpose apart from spooky magical backdrop to later happenings. I know that some stories work best when you leave some mysteries unsolved… but I’d hoped to have a more conclusive resolution to hers.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Kaja March 12, 2016 at 9:48 am

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one more! I’ve had it on my tbr for a while now because it was recommended as a good example of magical realism. I’ll probably pick it up someday soon, I’ve been wanting to read more of this genre.
    Kaja recently posted…The Demon King by Cinda Williams ChimaMy Profile

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