Fiction, Magical Realism, Young Adult

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton


Clearly, magical realism needs to be a new category on my site. So let it be done.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender…I’m still trying to decide my feelings about this book as I write this review. Kirkus Reviews expressed it so well: Lyrical magical realism paints four generations of women with tragic lives until a shocking violation fixes everything. (Although I’m not sure I would agree with the word “fixes.” Maybe “ended everything…” And where a female character is involved, the word “violation” can only mean one thing. A bit graphic for a YA novel, IMHO.)

Kirkus Reviews also mentions what so many others have too, which is that the main character, Ava Lavender–if you could call her the main character–isn’t born until nearly halfway through the story, although she narrates it from the beginning. The first half is all about her ancestry, starting with her great grandparents in France. This would be interesting if it were relevant, something only the reader can decide. I did not find it to be so. The tragic genealogy of Ava’s family did not explain the odd fact that she was born with wings, that her twin, Henry, was most likely autistic, or that their mother can predict certain events from their smell.

Like the unique plot, the writing quality is also up for debate. Poetic? Or tedious? I suppose if the writing were truly moving the plot forward, I would’ve appreciated it more, but when so many of the characters at the beginning have no real bearing on the supposed “main character,” I couldn’t help but question the point of the book’s first half. It was like the author was just warming up for the real story…such as it is.

Strange as it may seem, my favorites were Ava’s best friend, Cardigan, and her brother, Rowe. I loved the way they saw beyond her “deformity” and viewed her as just another girl. I also enjoyed the characters of Gabe and Wilhelmina, both steadfast presences in the lives of Ava’s mother and grandmother.

When I’m longing for the “sidekicks” to reappear, that, to me, indicates something is lacking in the story.

This is labeled as a Young Adult novel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The plot is pretty “out there” and too much is unresolved at the end. (An ending I’m still trying to correctly interpret.)

7/10 Stars

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