The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


"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."

I tend to believe that most people cannot easily come to grips with identity or the strange and beautiful sorrows of life until they unravel the stories of their family histories and peel away the layers of where they come from.

I also tend to believe that, like author Leslye Walton’s strange kinship with the daffodil, some people can achieve beauty only after a long, cold sulk in the rain.

As I read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, narrated by the peculiar and enchanting Ava Lavender herself, I felt as though I were hiding out with her in a secret place, marveling with her at the mysteries wedged between generations of unspoken and relentless suffering and love.

It was as if we had stumbled upon a box of journals or pictures we weren’t meant to find—as if we had blurred the lines that separate mother and daughter, reality and dream, or stranger and ghost. It was, in truth, like standing in a rainstorm having a long sulk, as Walton puts it, “pondering the logic, or rather, lack thereof, in love—the ways we coax ourselves to love, to continue loving, to leave love behind.”

This story, sprinkled with magic realism, chronicles the many ways love and pain have shaped the different generations of a hollow family. Told through the familiar but subtle hum of a traditional, pure fairy tale, Ava Lavender intimately invites readers into her story, which begins with the generations of the Roux family—all of whom have learned that love makes us such fools.

The generational saga explores themes of love and love lost, and every scene is so vividly painted. Walton knows how to weave a story using the five senses; she also knows how to create a character with wings in a painfully realistic way. Ava is a peculiar girl, and not simply because she was born with wings.

Her family seems to pass along a gene of strange, beautiful sorrows—beginning with her great-grandmother, Maman; grandmother, Emilienne; and mother, Viviane. These characters, along with the Roux siblings and Ava's twin brother, are portrayed so well, I actually had to reread small details because they were so damn lovely.

Sixteen-year-old Ava dives into her family’s past and peers into the cavernous hearts of her mother, grandmother, and others long gone—constructing what is so poignantly described on the inside cover as “a layered and haunting mythology of what it means to be born with a heart that is tragically, exquisitely human.” I wholeheartedly agree, and could not describe it any better.

Quite honestly, it was the perfect book for me. It was magical and dreamy but also dark and violent. There’s so much more I could say, but I would urge anyone interested in this book to stumble into reading without knowing much about it, as I did, because the tiny details that deepen characterization are what will make you fall in love with this book.

I could share countless lyrical quotes that—I promise you—will be etched into my heart for a long time, but I don’t want to steal that from you. All I can say is that I’ve found a new favorite. Completely unexpected. Completely mesmerizing. I cannot wait for Leslye Walton to write more books.