The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl.
It’s been about 24 hours since I reached the last page of this book, so I think I’m finally emotionally stable enough to type out a review. Although my high rating may not really show it, I felt at first a little disappointed with the novel! Not because I didn’t like it, per se, but because after everyone else’s reviews I expected to be completely wowed by this book. Then the last hundred pages happened, and I completely understood why everyone raves about this strange and beautiful story.
Love, as most know, follows its own timeline. Disregarding our intentions or well rehearsed plans.
For the first half of the book, we learn not about Ava, but her family history. We begin with Ava’s grandmother, Emilienne, and her unique family, and become familiar with her own strange and beautiful sorrows. The focus then moves to her daughter Viviane, and more love and loss follows suit. Since this takes up such a majority of the book, I agree with those who have pointed out that the title is a bit misleading. It didn’t make a huge difference in my reading experience, but I did find that odd (which I guess suits this book).
I did enjoy getting such a full picture of this strange family, but for most of the first half I couldn’t shake the feeling that all this exposition was to push some moral to the story I had to learn (that love will lead to sorrow), and the characters existed solely for this purpose. This, for a time, made them feel less real to me. That feeling, thankfully, started to fade when the book started to zero in on Ava. Without giving much away, her heart-wrenching story brings all generations together in an incredibly beautiful way.
Gabe was unusually tall, so he had to be careful where he stood, for if he blocked the sun, his shadow could cause flowers to wither and old women to send their grandchildren inside to fetch their sweaters.
This book is chock full of magical realism. Even though it certainly puts the pain, sorrow, and longing on display, I worried if this would make the story a little harder to connect with. Walton, thankfully, is a great writer and keeps that from happening. She is pretty clever in her simple narrative style, and it seemed to keep the story from feeling too over the top. All the enchanting extra details did, in fact, take the story to a whole other level. Ghosts haunted characters, pianos, and moments. Omens of terrible moments to come linger in conversations. And each character brings his or her own wonderful complexities that we get the opportunity to experience when Walton takes us inside their heads.
Love makes us such fools
And Love, the real main character of this story, is portrayed in the perfect harmony of Hope and Sorrow. Sorrow shows itself as an aching thing that yearns for what was and what could be. Hope is a frail thing we fight to nurture back to life when life itself pummels it with pain. Hope, when cherished and sustained, grows strong. Grows wings.
“Why would you be given wings if you weren’t meant to fly?”
Ultimately, it’s just a beautiful book. If you find it a little tough to get through at first, stick with it and you’ll definitely be rewarded. I suggest picking it up on a day where rainy (or in my case, snowy) weather leaves you more than happy to stay indoors and curl up with a good book.
(Trigger Warning: certain passages of this book contain explicit violence, both sexual and otherwise.)