Published by Candlewick Press, Walker Books Australia on March 27, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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 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.
It’s hard to describe what exactly this story entails, but the title couldn’t be more fitting. It was a sad, beautiful and strange novel; a unique experience. Told as a generational saga and covering the haunting, lyrical tale of Ava Lavender’s strange life, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was beautiful, bizarre, shocking and just a little bit weird.
The book is set out in two distinct parts. The first, a generational saga about the history of the Lavender/Roux family and how her great-grandmother, grandma, then mother lived their lives and how she came to be born. This style of story telling didn’t really work with me, due to the information overload and the series of characters we were told about, little which were of consequence to the storyline down the track.
The second part was a bit easier to read and digest, as it told of Ava’s life with wings and her struggle against her mother’s neglect. It tells us of her delinquent twin Henry who speaks in mysterious tongues and the weird things he says was kind of scary and offputting. Henry reminds me of a horror movie character because of this, especially his references to the “Sad Man” and the “red on the floor with feathers”.
What I did like about the story, was the lyrical, beautiful writing. It was simply amazing. The whole concept of magical realism was whimsical, although I would have preferred more explanations into why this girl just sprouted wings and feathers, and why some of her family can predict the future from omens. The French bakery was also a highlight with the descriptions of the desserts that constantly made me hungry.
Near the end of the book, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows caught me offguard with a shocking twist, there are some dark themes of stalking and violence. Did not expect that! There isn’t really a resolution or explanation as to why Ava has wings, which I found frustrating after going through a long book about anything but the answers. Also, the weirdest thing in the book happened out of left field:
He turned and saw me, my wings exposed, and he paled. For reasons even I remain unsure of, I dropped to my knees, raised my chin, and opened my mouth. For a moment he stood unmoving, possibly awestruck by the close proximity of my lips. Then he held up a paper-thin wafer and brought it to my mouth. I reached up and touched it with my tongue….A strange pink fire sparked and jumped from my parted lips.
Wh-what? I had to read that paragraph multiple times because it was completely random.
Overall, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows was a read that I would call quirky and artistic. Not the sort of book that I would understand, but somehow I think that’s missing the point. It’s more about the experience and opening your mind to strange new concepts delivered via some beautiful writing.
Thank you to Walker Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 3 out of 5