on 25th March 2014
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Foolish love appears to be a Roux family birthright. And for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is an ominous thing to inherit. In her quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to join her peers, 16-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world. But it is a dangerous world for a naive girl - a world which may view her as girl or angel. On the night of the summer solstice celebration, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava's journey and her family's saga reaches a devastating crescendo.
The title may be long – but perfectly fitting. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is often strange but equally beautiful. Telling the story of four generations, this is a novel where metaphors become reality.
Born with wings Ava Lavender is somewhat of an oddity in her part of Seattle. But her ancestors have always been just a little different from everyone else. Over the course of the novel we get to see how Ava’s story started long before she was born. From her maternal great grandparents leaving France to her grandmother’s three ill-fated loves and right down to Ava’s own peculiar experiences – I never quite knew what to expect from this book. I thought I’d be reading about Ava, and in a way I was, but not in the way I thought. The plot of this novel is different. Not counting the brief prologue, we don’t really get to know about Ava until around half way into the book. And even once Ava is introduced, it’s still unclear just where the story is heading.
I didn’t mind the ambiguity. I enjoyed seeing how Leslye Walton described the bizarre characters who made up the Roux/Lavender family. Personality traits and emotions are taken to the limit and beyond with emotions and heartbreak altering their realities to exaggerate the feeling. A woman as an empty vase, beauty literally causing the death of someone, the brutality of giving your heart to someone else… I love this concept but it was a little strange to grasp at the start. I found myself re-reading some pages as I was sure I had it wrong and that it wasn’t possible for certain things to have had happened.
There is not a lot of dialogue within this novel (at least for the first half) but rather it reads a little like a fairy tale. I thought this style was a great way to tell the story but again – I feel like I need to talk about the plot. Because every novel needs to have a point – a climax that everything has been leading up to – and this book does have one. But I think I’d have preferred if the story never entered the present and Ava’s story was told in the same story tale like way she shared her ancestors’ lives. Where the magical realism which was created though learning how Emilienne, Viviane and the others came to be the wonderfully eccentric characters with their not quite of this world quirks.
Overall, I found this book to be a wonderful read. It’s different – and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before. The characters with their oddities could have come across as ridiculous but Walton managed to have them straddle the line between reality and otherworldly in a way that worked. This beautifully written novel is full of charm and will most definitely go down as one of my most memorable reads of 2014.