The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Strange and surreal tale about love, both good and bad, and about oddity. Winged girl Ava will stay with you for a long time after you've finished reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Walker
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1406348082

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Shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize: Best Book for Teens

Ava Lavender is the youngest in a long line of strange women. Her mother is strange. Her grandmother is strange. Her aunts were strange. But Ava, perhaps, is the strangest of all. Because she was born with wings. In The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, this winged girl narrates the story of her family and how they came to live in the magical Seattle neighbourhood where her grandmother runs a bakery.

It's a tale of magic but it's also a tale of tragedy and disaster and death and lost love. Girls turn into canaries. Ghosts follow living siblings. Pastries cause shared emotions. And as she tells the story, Ava tries to make sense of herself. She isn't normal. Is normal better? Or do her wings come with a special destiny?

I love me some magic realism and I love me some darkness in my stories. So I thought The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was wonderful. It's quirky and sweet but it's also sad and doom-laden. And it's a real genre-buster so it isn't at all predictable. You get some historical fiction, you get love stories, you get myth and legend and superstition. And you get prose that is deep and dense and unfolds more and more with repeated reading. It's lyrical and wonderful and the subtleties in the text - surreal images, half-jokes, genuine profundities slipped in almost as throwaways - will repay the reader in spades.

Bad things happen to people. And they usually happen because of love. In Sorrows, love isn't the burning cleanser that cures all evils. It's the bruiser that leaves scars and ruins lives. But there's always hope. And in this story, that hope is expressed by Ava's wings. It is partly the story of Ava's family and it is partly the story of Ava. But mostly, it's the story of love, in all its guises. And that at times this theme of love feels as much of a horror story as a fairytale, makes it so very interesting and absorbing.

Having done so much gushing, I should issue a slight word of warning. Readers expecting the standard fare of genre supernatural will be disappointed. This isn't a genre piece and if you're looking for commercial fiction, you won't find it here in Sorrows. The density of the prose is a challenge. I loved the style but it did take me some time to get into the story and feel attached to the characters. To get the most from this lovely book you will need to be a bookish person, a dedicated reader. You won't shy away from the dark and you won't shy away from the difficult. If you are that reader, then I think Ava, the winged girl, and her love-struck forebears will stay with you for a very long time.

If the blend of magic realism, folklore and coming of age appeals to you, I think you'd also like Tender Morsels and The Brides of Rollrock Island, both by Margo Lanagan.

Buy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton at Amazon.com.


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