What isn’t there to like about a book whose protagonist was mysteriously born with wings? The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a bizarre tale set in an ordinary world. It’s one kind of story I love – where the author writes the world how she wishes to write it, simply because she can. This is Leslye Walton’s imaginative debut.
The story begins in France with Ava’s beautiful Grandmother Emilienne and follows her move to New York. The tragedies that befall her there move her again, to Seattle. There she brings up her daughter, who in turn raises her twins, winged Ava and her mute brother Henry.
This easy-to-read yet dark tale takes you on a strange journey that only gets stranger. Sadness and misfortune seem to follow this family like a curse. Every time I began to smile at something good happening, something wonderfully weird yet tragic would ruin it. This weirdness, coupled with a series of unexpected twists, make the story really intriguing and the characters all the more interesting. Whilst Ava experiences the relatable worries of a teenage girl and the process of overcoming them, she also reflects the mysterious approach to life that her ancestors demonstrate. And did I mention she has wings? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have wings?
While each member of the family possesses a unique natural gift, these gifts widen a division between the family and their community, who ostracize them rather than celebrate their differences. Unfortunately, this is a narrative we are all too familiar with. Walton shows us that there is a lot to gain through breaking down such divisions, for people on both sides.
In a way, the book is simplistic, with a straightforward plot and an easy-to-follow style. However, the thing I enjoyed most about it was all the little surprises, the small details, the flourishes that connect the story to the author. These golden nuggets of creativity are what I seek in novels. And in The Strange and Beautiful, these are fantastically peculiar things; Lovelorn women turning themselves into birds, cutting out their hearts, people reading the future in the weather or recognizing another by a delicately detailed scent.
This is definitely a story about love, both romantic love, and the fierce kind that binds family. It
explores lingering heartbreak, betrayal, and the liberation that comes with forgiveness or with moving on. But it also touches on what it means to be normal, how we struggle to understand and accept others’ differences and our own, and how evil does not always wear the most obvious face.
As the title suggests, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a sorrowful tale and at times I did wish that it were a tad sunnier. But there is such beauty in the sadness, and a strength in the strangeness of the characters that added a lightness and kept me glued until the end.