Thursday, 16 January 2014

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

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender tells the story of three women: Ava herself, a young girl who was born with a pair of softly feathered wings; her mother Viviane, heartbroken and shy of the world; her grandmother Emilienne, haunted by the sorrows of her lost brother and sisters. When Ava was born they called her The Living Angel, but where did this magic come from? As Ava traces her family’s history, the lives of her mother and grandmother, their choices and their fates, she spies a thread of magic that runs through them all – but what love, magic and tragedy awaits Ava herself?

I love the cover on this book, the beautifully engraved feather design. And the title is apt too: the story is one of strange and beautiful sorrows. But, while quiet tragedy does run through the pages, it is not all sorrowful. And it is not just Ava’s story either. Much of the first half of the book is taken up with Emilienne’s story, and then Viviane’s, and I have mixed feeling about this. Their histories are relevant and they have a part to play in the events that follow, but it meant the story took a long time to really get going, especially for a title that’s billed as Ava’s story. Although, of course, their story is a part of Ava’s story – but Ava is a much more engaging character than either her mother or grandmother, each of whom feels the toll of lost love heavily and whose choices I found slightly irritating and na├»ve in places. But perhaps Ava can break the cycle?

Once Ava herself came to the foreground of the story I was much more interested – a young girl like any other, she just wants to be accepted for who she is inside. But when she ventures beyond her garden gate will people see her for who she is or will they see only her wings? Will they be afraid? Or awed? As she gradually begins to expand her world it’s inevitable that someone out there will react badly. Will it destroy her? Or give her new beginning?

Leslye Walton writes with a style that reminded me strongly of Alice Hoffman, one of my favourite authors, whom I read a lot of in my early twenties, as she weaves in natural magics and gives her characters a quiet sort of sensitivity to the world. Just here and there, though, she lets it get a little out of control – one and half pages on the smell of rain, for instance, felt a little overcooked.

This is a book being marketed for teens/young adults, yet it doesn’t feel like a young adult book. Maybe this is a good thing: teens, after all, are more than capable of reading and engaging with ‘adult’ books, and why should teen books have a certain ‘feel’ about them anyway? The genre should definitely not be restricted in this way. However, I would only recommend it to older readers because of the sweeping sexual references and because, honestly, a younger reader is likely to get bored pretty quickly by the heavy beginning – this is not an action adventure book, it is not a romance or a dystopian thriller. I do love the magical realism aspect, though, and perhaps it’s time the young adult section had something a little different added to its shelves.

While I wasn’t completely overwhelmed, I did enjoy reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender; it was satisfyingly predictable in places and nicely unpredictable in others, and as the story built towards it’s conclusion I was most certainly gripped. And it has a slightly ambiguous ending, with a little surprise tucked inside it, as well as giving the feeling that all is right with the world as each of the three women overcome their sorrows and look to the future.

1 comment:

  1. Mmm, I was vaguely pondering reading this, mainly because the cover is lovely. I'd kind of lumped it in the sub Alice Hoffman camp though.