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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Review

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton writes a family story full of love and magic in THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER.

Every once in a while, you come across a story with such a strong sense of family, magic, love and history that it reads like a genuine folktale. That's what THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER feels like --- albeit a folktale laden with violence, heartbreak and plenty of sex.

More than anything, Leslye Walton's debut novel is a family saga, the tragicomic story of four generations of the family that culminates with twin siblings Ava and Henry Lavender, born in 1944. The story begins with Ava's great-grandparents, Beauregard Roux and "Maman," who emigrate from France to "Manhatine" in the early twentieth century. Following an extreme dose of tragedy, the Rouxs' daughter Emilienne marries in haste and goes all the way across the country to Seattle. There, she settles into a house with a dubious history, combats neighborhood rumors that she's a witch, takes over her newly-deceased husband's bakery (and makes it better than ever), and gives birth to a daughter, Ava's mother, Viviane.

Like the best mythology, THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is full of the passage of time, odd encounters and quirky characters.

Unlike her mother, Viviane falls in love once, at a young age, and more deeply than is probably good for her. When Ava and her brother Henry are born as a result of a one-night dalliance with this soon-lost love, Viviane spends months and years pining away and hoping without hope for her lover's return. Meanwhile, Ava struggles to find her own place in the world and the direction of her own heart. This isn't an easy journey, given that she, much to everyone's surprise and mystification, is born with a full-size pair of (seemingly nonfunctioning) wings. As for her twin, Henry, he remains a mystery to them all (the author makes it clear that, were he born fifty years later, Henry would have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, but in the 1940s and 1950s, this mute, sensitive boy is labeled as just "odd.") Ava relates her story, her desire to understand her uniqueness and her family history, her hope to find human happiness and maybe even love.

Like the best mythology, THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is full of the passage of time, odd encounters and quirky characters. Among these are Marigold Pie --- an abstemious widow who is in danger of wasting away to nothing until she taste's Emilienne's pastries (at which point the pendulum swings way the other way) --- and her nephew Nathaniel Sorrow, a devout young man who develops an unhealthy fixation on Ava, whom he's convinced is an angel.

Walton's novel may remind adult readers of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of Joanne Harris's CHOCOLAT (particularly Emilienne's work at the bakery), or Alice Hoffman's magical realism. The focus on inheritance, family stories and everyday magic make it seem like the novel should be set in the gloomy wilds of the American South rather than in Seattle, as it does. But this only serves to remind us that magic --- and love, and loss, and renewal --- can happen anywhere, at any time.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 25, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton

  • Publication Date: March 25, 2014
  • Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult 14+
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763665665
  • ISBN-13: 9780763665661