Release Date: March 25, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads
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 naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pips 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.
Thoughts on The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
I haven't had a lot of experience with magical realism aside from my love for Sarah Addison Allen and the movie Amélie. I've fallen head over heels for that movie and those books, but that's about the extent of my background with this concept. However, I was intrigued when I read the summary for The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because it seemed reminiscent of those two things.
I'm not sure if my expectations influenced how I felt for this book, but I suspect that they did. I went into this book looking for whimsical magical elements and lyrical prose. The writing was definitely gorgeous at times, but the magical parts of this story were very different from what I was anticipating. The magical infusions weren't whimsical or delightful. Instead, they often felt dark and ominous.
Here's the main problem I have with this book - the writing is absolutely gorgeous, but it also seems to go nowhere. There were so many lines and phrases I wanted to turn over in my mind, and I found myself highlighting or noting little things I really enjoyed. It's the same way I feel watching to Amélie or reading Addison Allen's books. There's a poetry to the story that comes from the magic that infuses it, and I really love that aspect. But I also really struggled with The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because much of it felt really pointless.
The first half of the book, at least, aren't even about Ava Lavender. It's actually her family history, which is somewhat interesting but didn't flow very well. I felt like some minor characters or back stories were too fleshed out and had no real relevance on the heroine or her story. It seemed like it was meandering aimlessly at times... no real forward momentum propelling me forward in the story.
It read very much like an adult novel, and I can actually say I was really shocked by the violence in this book. There is a brutal, devastating scene towards the end of the novel that felt very unresolved for the amount of havoc it wreaked on the characters' lives. It's such a tragic, sad story, which I guess I should have known from the "sorrows" in the title. But I honestly thought it would be more hopeful and not quite so devastating!
The other thing that bothered me is that I really didn't feel the story was realistic at all. It's also a "historical" novel if take the time period into account. I understand that magical elements will never be realistic, but (in my experience) magical realism tends to have very realistic story lines with added layers of magic that makes you ponder the little things in life that could be more than meets the eye. With Addison Allen, for example, it's wallpaper that changes to reflect someone's mood or food that can affect anyone who eats it. It's small, simple things that add texture and color to an otherwise realistic world. In The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I felt the magic overwhelmed the story to the point that it read more like fantasy than anything else. That's just me, and it could be because I don't have a lot of experience with this genre.
As much as I wanted to like The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I couldn't get past how bizarre the story and characters were for most of the book. I felt the story lacked direction, and I was never entirely sure where it was headed or, more importantly, why it was headed that way. I think it's likely to appeal to a very small group of readers who will absolutely love it, but I sadly wasn't one of them. I enjoyed Walton's poetic writing, but I struggled with the rest of it.
"She would feel her heart unclench and stretch its tightly coiled legs, preparing to leap into the path of yet another love. She'd think, This time could be different. This time it could last. Maybe it would be a longer, deeper love: a real and solid entity that lived in the house, used the bathroom, ate their food, mussed up the linens in sleep. A love that pulled her close when she cried, that slept with its chest pressed against her back."*I received a copy of this book from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.