Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - Leslye Walton
Genre: Magical Realism
Published: Candlewick Press, march 2014
My Rating: 5 stars
“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.”
One of the biggest surprises of 2016, in the best way possible. Based on what I had heard about this book, I was expecting fluffy, sweet magical realism, filled with pretty much "feel--good-vibes". What I got was a full blown tragedy in the best way possible. The title alone contains three words that describe this book perfectly; strange, beautiful and full of sorrow in the end.
The writing Leslye Walton is an artist, using words as paint, as she draws gorgeous images of a girl with wings in a picturesque village, working at a small family backery, so vividly you can almost smell the freshly baked bread. The gorgeous and idyllic atmosphere and writing form a stark contrast to the dark and bleak message the author leaves you with in the end: Everything beautiful is bound to be destroyed. Just based on this single book, this is an author to keep an eye on for sure. With her talent, I feel she could even make a grocery list interesting and I truly hope she publishes more in the future.
Characters I actually felt attached to almost all of the characters in this story, which is pretty rare for me. Often, I feel like there are some main characters that are well developed, whereas the rest are just wooden figures to further the plotline. In this book, every character felt unique. From the protagonists Ava, Vivianne and Emilienne to more minor characters like Henry (one of my absolute favorites) and Gabe. Even the dog Trouver felt so real to me, as if I could go out and take him for a walk anytime. I also want to mention the names she chose for each character and the great symbolism behind them. It's a tricky trope, that can really go either way for me. If done too obviously, it can really annoy me, yet if done subtly like in this novel I'm a sucker for it.
The ending (no spoilers) I you go in expecting a more lighthearted ending, like me; you are in for a surprise. This ending destroyed me. The final image this book leaves is such a powerful one that leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. I don't think I will ever forget that scene.
My only point of critique, if any, was that the story did start fairly slow. There was a lot of atmosphere in the beginning, but not yet a lot of story. The fact that the pacing was slow and there were so many characters introduced can make it harder to get into the story. I personally like books with an atmospheric set up, but if this is something that puts you off; maybe reconsider reading this book. This is a book that may take some effort.
I have heard many people name the rape scene as one of their lowpoints of the story, because of the violent nature. I can understand this, but I personally do not agree. Let me be very clear; that scene actually made me nauseous. It started with the image of the room filled with dead birds, which already burned its way into my brain and only got more dark from there on. What happened in that scene shocked me and had me utterly uncomfortable reading it. But that's the point... So many authors shy away from the more gruesome stuff to please readers, but the act that is committed in this scene it truly horrific and therefor the only appropriate response from the reader is shock. Being able to provoke that emotion in your reader isa sure sign of a 5-star author for me!
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