Friday, October 17, 2014

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

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
Published on March 25, 2014
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 301
Read From: 9.14.14 - 9.20.14

Love makes us such fools. 
Generations of the Roux family have learned this lesson the hard way. Foolish love appears to be the family birthright, in fact, which casts an ominous fate for its most recent progeny: twins Ava and Henry Lavender. Henry is mute for much of his young life, and 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 delves into her family's past and 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 both Ava's quest and her family's saga build to a dark and heartbreaking crescendo.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? The cover is gorgeous! Yes, this was mostly a cover buy; I admit it. The plot sounded intriguing as well, but I did mostly buy it for the cover.

Characters: If I'm to be truly, thoroughly, utterly honest - I don't know what I think of a single character. Or even what I thought of this entire book. Each and every one of the characters in this book has a rich and well-planned backstory, therefore not a single of them is boring. But other than Ava's little brother Henry and Gabe, the faithful handyman who has always loved Ava's mother Vivaine - even when she doesn't return his love, - I didn't care or even really like anyone. Emilienne, Ava's grandmother, causes her own problems by falling in love with two of the wrong sort of men and sleeping with them, and then marrying someone without love and having one child by him: Ava's mother Vivaine. Vivaine causes her own problems, too, by falling in love with the wrong sort of boy and getting pregnant by him, even after she discovers that he's gone and gotten engaged to another girl. And Jack, the boy Vivaine falls in love with, causes his own problems by getting engaged to a woman he doesn't love - and only marries her to prove to his cruel father that he is useful for something - and then sleeping with Vivaine on the night he's gotten engaged. And then totally ignoring the children Vivaine gives birth to, and estranging himself from his devoted new wife. Given that all of this heartbreak could have been avoided if they had just kept their pants on, I didn't feel sorry for any of them. I wanted to feel sorry for Jack, because his father truly was horrible, but then he went and did that; I couldn't. Gabe, a boarder at Vivaine's mother's house, has always been devoted to Vivaine. He's a good lad, and a very good man when he grows up. Even he has some ghosts in his background - sexual related ones, but to Gabe's credit, they aren't his fault at all. He knows Vivaine doesn't love him, but he stays on at the house, being a father to her children and doing things around the house than need doing. I very much loved Gabe. Then there's Ava and Henry. Henry is a peculiar boy who keeps to himself, hates being touched, obsessively draws maps, and only speaks when he has something very important to say. Ava lives in isolation, with the exception of two neighborhood friends Cardigan and Rowe. Cardigan was a flirt, but Rowe was honest and kind, so I guess there was one more character I liked. And finally, Nathaniel Sorrows - a young Catholic pastor who comes to take care of his ailing aunt and who grows obsessed with Ava and her wings. He was. . . .disturbing. Plain and simple. Nothing about Nathaniel Sorrows to like.

The Romance: Lust. I was invested in Jack and Vivaine's romance until they slept together and Jack left her for a woman he didn't love. I felt sorry for Gabe, and I hoped that Ava wouldn't be stupid and would marry Rowe. But overall, the relationships in this book did not capture me heart and soul - not even a little bit.

Plot: Ava Lavender is a normal teenage girl growing up in the last 1950s, early 1960s. There's one difference, though: she was born with magnificent brown bird's wings. No one can explain it, and because of her difference, Ava and her twin brother Henry - unique in his own way - rarely go outside of their house. In her desire to understand why she is the way she is, Ava delves deep into her ancestors' pasts, and discovers that strangeness seems to run in the Lavender family. Well over half of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is recounting her family's history. We follow her ancestors from France to Manhattan, and then from Manhattan to Seattle. We learn about the histories of the people her ancestors met, including the previous owners of the house Emilienne buys when she moves to Seattle. I know a lot of Readers found this boring, and wanted more Ava Lavender. I, however, found it really interesting and a great lead-up to Ava's circumstances. Learning about her ancestors and the people in their neighborhood added a lot to the world and the ambiance and the situation. That being said, this is a weird book. The Lavender ancestors - the Roux - have a very peculiar background. People in their family literally turned into canaries, were shot by lovers, literally faded away until they were a pile of blue dust, carved their hearts out, et cetera. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the weirdness was meant literally, and once I did, I began to enjoy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender a bit more. But it's still weird.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. The writing alone is what gives this book its high(er) rating. There's absolutely no denying that Leslye Walton has a beautiful, lyrical, whimsical, captivating style. Her words feel like a dream, but a dream you can believe actually happened. I would compare it to Erin Morgenstern's.

Content: 1 f-word, 2 g--damns - respectively. There are also several s-words, but I unfortunately lost the piece of paper that had the profanity count! There is a lot of prevailing sexual and sensual content. Other than Gabe and Rowe - and Ava - there are no abstinent characters. And those who don't sleep with someone are having fantasies about doing. . . .things. For a YA book, I was a little surprised at how unwavering it was in some of its language choice. Not explicit, but close. When Nathaniel Sorrows sees Ava, he starts having visions and fantasies about "being" with Ava, and [Spoiler] later Ava is raped by him. [End spoiler] While not dreadfully explicit, it's an intense and disturbing scene.

Conclusion: My biggest question after finishing this book was: what was the point? A beautifully-written story with fleshed-out characters and bizarre happenings, I just didn't get its purpose. The title, however, fits it perfectly: it is strange. And it is sorrowful. And it left me feeling more than a little disturbed. I have yet to decide whether or not it was a good sort of disturbed.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, nineteen-and-up.

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