The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Goodreads | Amazon) is a beautifully written book, bursting with magical realism and lyrical writing but at the same time very accessible to read. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the multi-generational story but by the end everything was woven nicely together and the past was just as important as the present within the life of Ava Lavender herself.
The book doesn't begin with Ava Lavender, but with her grandmother's family the Roux's. They're a family of immigrant making their way in New York City, both beautiful and strange. The tragedies of Ava Lavender's life start way back with the tragedies of her grandmother's life and the flight that led them across the country to as far away from New York as they could go. They continue with the heartbreak of her mother's Vivane's life, and the problems of her parents and grandparents are interwoven into Ava's life as well.
When Ava Lavender finally comes into the story she's a perfectly beautiful and normal little girl, with the exception of the inexplicable wings she was born with. Out of all the people in the novel, despite her wings, Ava is probably the most normal. I liked the juxtaposition of her physical abnormality with her normal childhood feelings and eventually normal teenage girl wants and needs.
"I mean, are you the threat, or are we?"
"You are! Well, they are." I motion to the cluster of teenagers. Of course it was them. Rowe peered at me thoughtfully.
"Funny. I suspect they might say otherwise." He stood. "And that might just be the root of the problem: we're all afraid of each other, wings or no wings."I like that this book didn't give into high school tropes. Even though Ava is home schooled (her mother is afraid something terrible will happen otherwises), she's befriended by a neighborhood girl. After asking if she could fly (which is exactly what I would've done as a child), Cardigan and Ava become fast friends. There is no girl-on-girl hatred or jealousy, just immediate and true friendship between two children that follows them into their teenage years.
The outside world is not nearly as terrible to Ava as her mother imagines, until as the title implies something terrible happens. But part of the reason something bad happens is that Ava is too sheltered and not prepared to deal with people who wish her ill. Even so, the evil done is treated as an aberration to humanity not the state of it. For the most part, people mean well and this book acknowledges that while also showing that bad things do happen.
As far as debut's go, this one is pretty stunning. It's ambitious and truly original, a story that doesn't seem like it should work but does completely. Rather than give into the easy teenage tropes, Leslye Walton builds believable characters, a charming town and a timeless whimsical story that's a welcomed addition to the YA shelves.
I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.