Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Format: Paperback
Published by Walker on 27th March 2014 (first published on 25th March 2014)
Pages: 320
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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Love makes us such fools.

Pain in love appears to be a Roux family birthright, and for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is key to her inheritance. Longing to fit in with her peers, Ava ventures away from home, ill-prepared for what awaits her in a world that does not know whether to view her as girl or angel.

Ava's quest and her family's saga build to a devastating crescendo until, on the summer solstice, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava's fate is revealed.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender has an absolutely gorgeous cover that really captures the atmosphere of the book for me. The paperback even feels lush to the touch. The inside cover is so beautiful:

I just love that bright yellow and all those feathers! The font is just so lovely too.

This book is written in such a captivating style, with a heavy dose of magical realism at the centre of it. I was mesmerised from the beginning. For a book that contains some pretty brutal subject matter-- death, violence, rape, abuse-- it had a hauntingly dreamlike quality to most of it. Everything is a little strange, as the title promises; not everything is beautiful, but there are certainly beautiful moments along the way. The writing style itself is definitely, achingly beautiful.

I think what's most beautiful about this book is the way it shows how humans live in spite of sorrow, how they endure and how they sometimes manage to move on. It's not the sorrows themselves that are beautiful, but how the characters in this book act in the face of them.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender tells the story of three generations of the Roux family in a chronological order from Ava's viewpoint, focusing on three women: Ava's grandmother Emilienne, Ava's mother Viviane, and finally Ava herself. All three women's lives are woven with sorrows, in different ways. Ultimately all the sorrows of Emilienne and Vivane lead to Ava's, somehow. And that's why despite the fact that most of the book ostensibly concentrates on Emilienne and Viviane, it is still entitled The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. Because to tell the story of her own sorrows, Ava must start with the sorrows of the women in her family before her; they are the puzzle pieces that form the picture of Ava's sorrows. Ava, the girl who is born with brown speckled wings but cannot fly.

However, as much as I liked most of this book, I had a problem with it. A spoilery problem, but I've already mentioned that this book contains rape. My problem has to do with the treatment of that particular plot point, and to discuss this fully I will have to spoil the end, so:

Ava is brutally raped and her wings are sickeningly hacked off towards the end of the book. I felt like the whole book had been building up to this, and it was just so disappointing. It felt awful and unnecessary and the description bordered on lurid. I just didn't understand what purpose it served. And I wouldn't even have that much of a problem with it if the aftermath had been handled well-- if more time had been dedicated to her healing process afterwards, if we got a more sensitive portrayal of Ava's recovery. Instead, it's rushed and takes up barely any space in the book, and Ava's love interest, who's off to college, writes her letters and he tells her he loves her and then he comes back to her and she grows new pure white wings and soars into the sky! We don't really get to see how Ava actually recovers mentally; her thoughts are kind of empty and blank most of the time and the reader never really finds out how she actually feels about what happened to her, and then suddenly everything is going to be okay again. But I have no idea why. I just really disliked how that whole plot point was developed. It left an extremely bad taste in my mouth.

But, despite this (rather glaring) complaint, I have to admit that I enjoyed the rest of this book a lot. Enough that I simply can't resist giving it three stars. It could have been five stars if the author hadn't given me this reason to complain. I really wanted to love this book from the bottom of my heart, but I couldn't.

If you know you would enjoy reading a book simply for the beauty and strangeness of it, then you'll probably like this book, and you may not have a problem with it like I did. It's a fairly slow-moving book, though not without plot and its own unique sense of excitement. But mostly the book is just a quiet journey through the lives of the Roux family and the ways in which they are touched by love and pain and sorrow.

This is not a happy book. But it manages to be uplifting in little ways. I had my own problems with how the story unfolded, but despite this I was entranced by the book. I just wish it hadn't disappointed me the way it did.

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