A mesmerizing, lyrical tale of the bright and dark sides of love and desire.
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, 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. 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.
I got a paperback copy of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender from Waterstones during one of their 2015 blogging events. I’m slowly making my way through the stack of YA books I picked up from the event and this was next in the pile. YA is a genre I’ve had problems with in the past (Marked being the most recent one I’ve had trouble with) and I’ve found the books can vary wildly in quality.
Considering this is a first book from this author, she has done a wonderful job. Some people call it “magical realism”, and there are some moments especially at the beginning that could help class it as such. Ghosts appear through the book as do birds in various guises. With Ava having wings, I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, especially in the fact that she cant fly (and therefore escape).
The Roux family grow up in France, and all the family members have a history of tragic love stories. Her great-grandmother, Maman; grandmother, Emilienne; and mother, Viviane’s stories are all told to us by Ava, usually in the third person narrative.
After moving to the west coast of America, Ava’s mother falls in love with a man, who marries someone else for her money, leaving Viviane pregnant and single. Ava is born (her twin brother Henry follows not long after) and it is immediately apparent that Ava will be different. The wings between her shoulder blades – brown, not white like an angel’s – cannot be removed without killing her. As he grows, it becomes apparent that Henry also sees the world differently, rarely talking and then what seems to be gibberish. As the story continues to it’s climax, it is clear that Henry has joined his grandmother in being able to see and talk with the ghosts that follow Emilienne around – namely the siblings that grandmother lost to love whilst living in France.
The story isn’t just about Ava, or the sorrows that the women in her family have suffered, usually at the hands of men. There are people in the wider community, centering around the bakery run by Emilienne. Similar to Chocolat by Joanne Harris (another magical realism book), the pastries and bread picked up in the bakery have their own certain magic, and are often taken to replace something missing in the buyer’s life.
We never find out the reasons for Ava having wings – after the doctors wash their hands of her when she is born, there is no further medical investigation into things. To protect them from the perceived reaction of the town, Ava and Henry are kept secluded until well into their teens. However as Ava gets older she finds the need to spread her wings – literally and metaphorically – and has soon found a way of finding acceptance from people her own age, in no small part through help from her closest friends. Unfortunately there are some people whose interest is too intense, and it results in yet more sorrows for the remaining members of the Roux family.
As I’ve said this is the debut novel from this author and I think she has done an outstanding job with it, producing a book that is perplexing, poetical, slightly flawed perhaps (not all questions are answered, but it’s ok really), and more than a little magical.
Here is a review of the book from Tor.Com
As you know I don’t do vlogging etc, but in searching for some additional reviews to round things off, I found that quite a few vloggers have covered this book so I thought I would include some videos for your perusal. First off is the book trailer:
And here are two randomly chosen vlog reviews of the book – hope you find them useful additions to my review