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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender [Hardcover]

Leslye Walton

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Book Description

March 25 2014
Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava — in all other ways a normal girl — is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the summer solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

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Review

[A]n entrancing and sumptuously written multigenerational novel wrapped in the language of fable, magical realism, and local legend. ... Walton's novel builds to a brutal but triumphant conclusion. It's a story that adults and teenagers can appreciate equally.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Walton’s novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. ... This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved -- desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. ... It is beautifully crafted and paced, mystical yet grounded by universal themes and sympathetic characters. A unique book, highly recommended for readers looking for something a step away from ordinary.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

This love story by debut YA author Leslye Walton is as rare and perfect as Mona Lisa’s smile.
—Ellen Klein, Hooray for Books! (Alexandria, VA)

It is just as the title suggests, both strange and beautiful, and should be read by every lover of books, regardless of their age.
—Becky Quiroga Curtis, Books & Books (Coral Gables, FL)

This remarkable, magic-laced family history continues and spreads to other members of Ava’s Seattle neighborhood to produce a gauzy narrative of love and loss... [An] intentionally artful tale.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

This magical lyrical story is a beautifully written novel with much to offer readers. ... Exquisite.
—Library Media Connection

[Ava's voice] is a beautiful voice—poetic, witty, and as honest as family mythology will allow. There are many sorrows in Walton’s debut, and most of them are Ava’s through inheritance. Readers should prepare themselves for a tale where myth and reality, lust and love, the corporal and the ghostly, are interchangeable and surprising.
—Booklist

The story’s language is gorgeous.
—Kirkus Reviews

In a sweeping intergenerational story infused with magical realism, debut author Leslye Walton tethers grand themes of love and loss to the earthbound sensibility of Ava Lavender as she recollects one life-altering summer as a teenager. ... Walton presents challenges that most teens will hopefully never face. She writes of love, betrayal, birth, murder, affection and rape--and wraps them in prose so radiant that readers feel carried by Ava's narrative. The heroine's humor and wisdom as she looks back at her life let us know that she is a survivor.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)

This. Book. Stole. Our. Hearts. It unfolds like a hauntingly beautiful dream (or is it a gorgeous nightmare?)... Strange and beautiful... violent and gorgeous. You gotta read it. A must-read for fans of beautiful monsters like Miss Peregrine's.
—Justine Magazine

Using detailed imagery and an almost mythical storytelling style, teenage Ava tells the history of four generations of her family. ... [Teens] willing to enter Ava’s world on its own terms will find themselves richly rewarded.
—BookPage

[Ava] navigates through her family’s history—along with her own—with a lyrical prose that maintains a whimsical and traditional fairy tale feel despite the sorrowful themes. ... Overall, I’m both impressed and dazzled by Leslye Walton’s debut. "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" is a novel that has so many layers that it demands your attention. Written with the finesse of a seasoned writer, it’s stunning, magical, strange and, of course, very beautiful.
—Tor.com

First-time novelist Leslye Walton has crafted a beautiful, haunting family history that spans generations and continents. The story’s narrator, Ava, is achingly believable. ... "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" is not a typical love story. Walton’s tale, by turns tragic and comic, expects readers to explore the big questions love raises — why do we love the people we love, and why do we hold on to love that hurts?
—The Times-News

[This novel] should be remembered for the devastatingly beautiful character of Ava Lavender and how she depicts just what it is to be different.
—The Guardian

Foolish love and flight are Ava's family inheritance. Magical realism colors this tale of a girl normal but for the wings with which she was born.
—San Francisco Chronicle

The characters are rich and familiar, and Walton does whimsy with a healthy dose of melancholy and tragedy. The storytelling is completely beautiful... A particularly toothsome and pleasurable read.
—Toronto Globe and Mail

About the Author

Leslye Walton says that The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender began as a short story that came to her while listening to a song. She has an MA in writing, and this is her first novel. Walton is a native of Tacoma, Washington, and she currently teaches middle school in Seattle.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  83 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love is not a strong enough word in this case. April 11 2014
By Jamie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Why I chose this book:
Honestly, I knew nothing about this book before I opened the cover. Even after reading the synopsis, I couldn't tell you what it was about. I had no clue why I wanted to read it so badly, but I did. So, I filled out a purchase request at the library, and when it came in--slightly before the release date--I had to sneak a peek. And I almost couldn't put it down.

4 Things You Should Know:

1. This is not your grandma's love story.
Ava may be the main character, but the book is about more than just her. The women of the Roux family have a long and sorrowful history of ill-fated love, which Ava catalogues faithfully, beginning with her great-grandmother. Told from Ava’s contemporary point-of-view, she chronicles the lives and deaths of her ancestors, as well as the peculiarly tragic ways in which love made fools of them. Ava herself does not reach the story of her own life until the middle of the book. When I encounter a novel like this, one that reaches far back into the ancestral well of despair, I usually grumble, sigh, and settle in for the ride, prepared to make the requisite investment in past lives and hoping the payoff at the end will be worth it. However, this was not the case. At all. I was as riveted by the three previous generations of Roux women as I was by Ava herself. Each character was so carefully recorded, each taking turns in the spot-light, that my heart was breaking alongside of theirs at every turn of the page.

2. Is this real life?
Magical realism--the straight-faced portrayal of events and circumstances so obviously otherworldly--is one of my favorite literary devices, and Walton folds magic into her prose so beautifully, I never question the little oddities that plague the Roux family. Her great grand-mere simply dissolves into a pile of dust. One great aunt transforms into a canary, the other carves out her own heart, and they both insist on haunting Ava’s grandmother. Ava’s mother has a nose able to distill someone’s very essence from the air. Her brother is a fairly mute boy with a talent for drawing maps and talking to ghosts, while Ava herself is born with the speckled wings of a bird. All these things seem highly unbelievable, yet Walton so tenderly relays these facts that I don’t doubt her for a single syllable.

3. Whimsicality
Quirky, eccentric, playful, quaint. Call it what you want, but Walton’s writing is marvelous. Literary without being pompous and whimsical without reaching the outlandish, Walton’s writing had me swooning from page one. Her seamless fusion of magical realism and a documentary-like structure melds in the gentle cadence of her lyrical prose. Every sentence had me rapt, and I could’t turn the pages fast enough.

4. Let me count the ways
Walton tackles every kind of love you can think of, from filial, to platonic, unrequited and purely lustful. She unrelentingly shows how each of these can destroy you, and how that destruction can define you. But she also demonstrates the maddeningly human quality of choosing, again and again, to love. She begs the ultimate question of why it is we love, and presents an answer both poignant and optimistic.

Final Thoughts
Heartbreaking, haunting, and yet strangely hopeful, this book was so very unlike anything else I've read. It was oddly whimsical and literary, two things that don't often pop up in YA. But it was also heartfelt and utterly engrossing. Less than three pages in, I was hooked. By fifty pages, I was on Amazon ordering my own copy, knowing full well I would finish the book before the package even came. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender just may be my favorite read of the year.

More reviews at [...]
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Love can make us such fools." April 8 2014
By E. M. Bristol - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Born with wings but doomed (seemingly) to a grounded life, Ava Lavender is kept secluded in her Seattle home by a mother with a thousand excuses as to why it's safer this way. Without much in the way of external stimulation, her thoughts turn toward her ancestors and how their peculiarities might have wound up producing a girl like her. "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" is the story of her family, a truly odd clan, who emigrated from a small French village. Her great-grandfather, Beauregard Roux, brought his three daughters and one son to a place he called "Manhatine," which turned out to be not nearly as wonderful as expected. Peculiar things began happening to the family, including one transforming herself into a canary. Later, their ghosts would return to haunt Ava's mother, Viviane, and her grandmother, Emilienne, and play a crucial role when Ava, as a young woman, suffers a gruesome tragedy.

This book and its magic realism reminded me strongly of Alice Hoffman's novels, particularly "Practical Magic." The two both involve several generations of women who deal with local prejudice that they may be witches, and who, unable to rely on the rather feckless men in their lives, manage to earn their own living. In this case, the Lavender clan, with the help of another woman, begin and run a highly successful bakery. Still, there are dangers awaiting their family that only their son, absorbed in a world of his own, realize. When Ava, with the help of a girlfriend and her older brother, eventually begins to venture out into the world, as she grows up, she revels in her newfound freedom, but is unaware of a threat close to home. In the end, both the Lavenders and the townspeople learn a very important lesson about what's truly important and the hazard of judging solely by appearances.

"The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows," turns dark and violent toward the end; it's Alice Hoffman by way of say, Stephen King. However, it is an unique book, and Ada's voice is distinct and as lovely as her name.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous Writing But DEADLY Boring April 9 2014
By NotebookSisters - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Yes, I've given this a low star-rating. Yes, I'm also horrified. Yes, I'm also mostly alone in my feelings of this book (it has a 4.10 average star rating on Goodreads!). And no, I will not be saying the title five times fast while I turn in a circle and pat my head. (But YOU can try it if you like.)

The ugly truth is: this book just didn't click with me.

And I wanted to like it! I really, really did! I'm utterly in love with the cover and the title. (Ava Lavender?! Isn't that just the most gorgeous name ever?!) It comes out in late March, but I read it on the 3rd of February because I was so excited for it.

Writing? Personally, I felt it was written like a very beautiful text book. History. There's hardly any scenes, hardly any dialogue. The first 120 pages are before Ava is even born! That's nearly HALF the book. It's not just about Ava Lavender (and this is where I get annoyed at the blurb, because it really tells you nothing about the book): it's about Ava's whole family history. Which is...interesting. But mildly boring.

I like scenes and dialogue and character-driven plots. This didn't have any of that.

It's all very tragic and beautiful though. I love the flow of the prose. It feels lyrical, definitely. The description really pops. They don't just say "cake" they say "butterscotch brownies". Every word feels well thought-out.

I was just so bored while I was appreciating the gorgeousness.

The names are fabulous! Some authors are just blessed with the ability to give the best names. Not only do we have Ava Lavender, we have Laura Lovelorn, Cardigan Cooper, Marigold Pie, Beauregard Roux, Viviane Lavender (that's Ava's mother) and Emilienne Roux. I lovelovelove it.

It was just the writing style of telling-telling-telling history event after event...that drove me crazy.

I really wanted to like this book. But to be strictly honest with you, it wasn't for me. That doesn't mean you won't like it!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Magic realism + YA = a winning combination! April 10 2014
By I Know What You Should Read - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rating: 3.5/5

I am a big fan of both magic realism and YA books, so I was excited when I read this blurb about The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender on Buzzfeed’s “15 YA Novels To Watch Out For This Spring”: “When you mix YA with magical realism, the results are often, well, magical. Thus, I’m intrigued by this debut in which a girl born with bird wings struggles to understand herself and the complexities of love.” And when I saw the beautiful cover, I was sold.

As far as magic realism is concerned, this book does not disappoint. In fact, the quirky and beautiful moments of magic realism are where the book shines:

-- A girl turns herself into a canary to catch the eye of “an older gentleman with a fondness for bird watching”;
-- A mother slowly begins to disappear (“[S]he reached out to take hold of her mother’s hand. Her fingers slipped right through, as if passing through a wisp of steam.”) until all that is left of her is a pile of ashes;
-- A man suffering from unrequited love is filled with so much hope the first time the woman he loves says his name that “he grew another two inches just to have enough room to hold it all”;
-- A young boy regularly converses with the dead (but not the living).

Sadly, these moments are usually too fast and fleeting. I wish there had been more moments of magic realism, because they lighten and sweeten an otherwise heavy and tragic tale.

Although the title suggests that the “sad and beautiful sorrows” are Ava’s alone, they are actually shared in equal measure by four generations of women in Ava’s family:

1) Maman (no one knows here real name), who follows her husband Beauregard from France to New York with their four children (Emilienne, Réne, Margaux, and Pierette) in search of a better life, and then slowly disappears;
2) Emilienne, who travels west with her husband just prior to his death, has one baby (Viviane), opens a bakery, and is regarded as a witch for her unique abilities (She is “more sensitive to the outside world than other people . . . An owl hoot was an omen of impending unhappiness. A peculiar noise heard three times at night meant death was near.”);
3) Viviane, whose heart is broken by her first love (and baby daddy), who fiercely protects her odd twins, Henry and Ava; and
4) Ava, a normal girl born with flightless bird wings.

The women in Ava’s family carry the special burdens and suffer the unique pains that only love can elicit. The book culminates in the particular (and particularly tragic) sorrows of the teenage Ava Lavender, but by the time you get there, you understand that heartbreak and tragedy are a family birthright.

This is a book that should have been great, great, great. And, in many ways, it was. You can’t go wrong with a baby born with bird wings and creepy stalkers and ghosts foretelling the future. The writing overall is lovely, and the elements of magic realism are winning.

The (slight) problem: Walton bit off a bit more than she could chew. Four generations of heartbreak (not to mention a bunch of love and loss and violence and friendship and redemption) is a lot to cover in 300 pages. A bit too much, in fact. Many of the more interesting plot points were handled too cursorily.

The characters in this book are unique and quirky and tragic and interesting . . . but because there are so darn many of them, it’s hard to care particularly about any of them. When the number of characters with unique gifts and quirks is in the double digits, the characters cease to seem as individually special.

All that being said, if you’re a fan of magic realism and YA books, this is definitely one worth checking out.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely gorgeous tragedy March 25 2014
By Jill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
According to the author’s bio, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was inspired by “a particularly long sulk in a particularly cold rainstorm spent pondering the logic, or rather, lack thereof, in love – the ways we coax ourselves to love, to continue loving, to leave love behind.”

It could have been an unadulterated disaster. Miraculously, it wasn’t.

I find that when people expressly seek to explore love, they pulverize everything that is so captivating about it. Very cleverly, Leslye Walton writes her gorgeous treatise on love by not writing about love. In the same way you do not find love in real life by looking for it, you do not find love in a story by looking for it. Instead Walton writes about the generations of a special family and the magical Seattle neighborhood they occupy. And of course, there is love—all sorts of love—there. But it is an organic and true form of love. The type of love that leads to smiles but also to blood and tears.

It’s exquisitely written. Walton’s magical realism is incredible: just wacky enough that you tilt your head when someone turns into a bird but never so crazy that you feel thrown from the story. She packs the story with enduringly beautiful images—a white Communion dress stained with cherries and mud, a wooden countertop gleaming with patisseries, a heart hacked away because of a child with blue-green eyes.

It’s just stunning. And it contains more truth about love, more hard, real facts about love than any contemporary, hyperrealistic literary novel. In this tragical and hopeful family saga, we learn that love cannot be pinned down. It is nowhere and it is everywhere and that is magical.

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