Published: March 25, 2014.
Published by: Candlewick Press.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Candlewick!
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.
I rarely find myself venturing into the world of magic realism because past experience has resulted in me finding it rather disengaging, a little silly, and frankly just not my taste. However, I was drawn in by the premise of this novel and hoped that it would mark a change for my relationship with the style. On this it has; I truly enjoyed this novel. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender lives up to its name in many ways, being both strange and very beautiful. It is undeniably unique and was a reading experience like no other.
Ava Lavender tells this story like a multi-generational memoir in her own voice, making her the narrator and the ultimate centre of the story but drawing her mother, Viviane, and maternal grandmother, Emilienne, in as vivid and vital characters in their own right. Ava tells of each woman's life, focusing especially on each's loves and sorrows and the need for freedom from various traps and cages. Over the course of the narrative, all three women become more intriguing and more understandable, more familiar and yet also more mysterious. It is an excellent balance that suits the story so well. Each of the characters explored in the novel - not just these three central women - is undeniably strange in some way or another and has some kind of important effect on the lives of Emilienne, Viviane, and/or Ava. Watching this play out the way it does was truly engaging as they all struggle with what life throws their way.
Once again being true to its name, this novel has a strand of sorrow that weaves its way throughout the entire narrative. It displays itself more prominently in many ways (often related to love) but is clearly present during the whole story and adds a great deal to the feeling of the novel. The emotions that rise and fall in the telling of this story were one of the most powerful parts for me. I felt they were woven so well together and the memoir format helps bring them alive in the forefront. The love that comes and goes and the family bond that quietly permeates so many of the interactions feel so honest that I couldn't help but feel affected.
The magic realism was, to me, handled with a light hand and a subtle touch and I think that is why I enjoyed it significantly more than I often do. There were occasions where something especially peculiar pulled me out of the story a bit, but someone used to the quirks of magic realism I think would find this an enjoyable adventure throughout.
This novel really is so unique and immersive. The narrative is one that slowly pulls you deep into these characters' lives so you become invested almost without realizing, and yet also manages to maintain a distance that strikes a masterful balance. If you're looking for a sorrowful, beautifully written tale of human hearts and all the good and bad they take, this is the novel for you. If you're looking for YA with a very literary feel, this one is for you. Even if you're looking for a book set in the past that is not at all about the history, this book is for you. All these wonderful elements blend together so well to create this wonderful piece of literature. For a style that I do not often enjoy, this one truly took me by surprise.