Sunday, January 22, 2017
Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Rating: 4 Stars
Why did I wait so long to read this book? The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is equal parts amusing and heartbreaking. The first half of the novel follows the tale of Ava's great-grandfather, his journey from France to Manhattan, her grandmother's subsequent trials and tribulations as she loses her three siblings, falls in love three times, and finally relocates to Seattle. Then, the story of her mother, known as the "witch's daughter" whose childhood sweetheart leaves her with twins, the winged girl Ava and her silent brother Henry.
It doesn't seem like much of a tale, but the first-half of the novel, despite its slow start, is captivating in its unfolding of family history, drama, and lore. The Lavender's are a weird bunch, from the start, and with the birth of Ava and Henry, their small family becomes weirder still. But Walton's writing is dream-like, her prose utterly haunting, and I found it impossible to put this book down once I became sucked into it. I wanted each of these three generations of women to find their own happiness and the distinct personalities of each shone through the page.
The secondary characters were no less brilliant, each thoroughly developed and realized, and the magical realism elements were compelling and enchanting; I am sure I have missed the symbolism Walton wants her readers to understand but I loved the fantasy nevertheless. My only qualm with this story is that the last few chapters--beautiful, heart-breaking, lovely--contain some extremely sudden and graphic imagery that I feel may be startling and a trigger to some readers. It's an explicit spoiler, but if you feel as if trigger warnings may apply to you, I want to offer that to readers. Trigger Warning/Spoiler (highlight to view): RAPE/CHILD ABUSE/VIOLENCE
Anyhow, if you have somehow let this novel collect dust on your shelves, as I have, for the past two years, now is a good time to get it out. It's the perfect holiday read, embodying everything I love about family and hope in a package of magical realism. I only regret that Walton is yet to publish her next novel, but I sincerely hope she returns to magical realism--there aren't enough gems in this genre, and especially not enough Young Adult ones.