“To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale.”
Ava Lavender was born with wings, but she isn’t an angel. She’s a human girl but she’s also more than a human girl, and she is the result of a long line of women who have had disastrous love affairs. Leslye Walton‘s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a magical realist family saga that follows four generations of women, starting with Ava’s great grandmother in France and culminating in Seattle with Ava’s own tragic story of affection gone very, very wrong and holy god damn shit is it incredible.
When I started this book I thought I had already read my favorite book of the year, that being Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, but as I drifted deeper and deeper into Ava Lavender I found myself relishing every moment I spent lost in it, and searching for every possible excuse to crawl away from the real world and into the bruising beauty of Ava Lavender. It is gorgeous, it is devastating, and it is nearly 300 pages of heartbreak captured without cloying melodrama. Reading it felt a bit like turning your face up to a soft, gray, rainy day and savoring the feeling of letting the story soak into your skin. In other words, this is AT LEAST tied with Blue Lily, Lily Blue for favorite book of 2014, and that is saying something.
The writing is lyrical without running purple; it is the perfect, perfect example of magical realism done right, in which magic happens throughout the story without it ever being acknowledged as anything overly odd. A woman turns into a canary, an entire town weeps after eating a heartbroken woman’s bread (I think this was probably a nod to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate), the moon disappears when someone’s heart is broken, and, yes, our titular character has beautiful, enormous speckled wings. The magic never veers into the realm of fantasy, but simply enhances a story that is firmly grounded in the realism of whom we love, why we love, and why we choose to hang on to love or let it go.
Leslye Walton’s writing is intimidating enough, but consider this, dear readers: THIS IS HER FIRST BOOK. Whenever I encounter writing that is this good right out of the gate, I get all antsy in my pantsy just wondering if what’s to come is going to be even more delicious as they polish their craft. I can’t wait to see what else she has in store, and even though I haven’t read any of the other finalists I think she should win the Morris for debut YA authors or whatever. BECAUSE I KNOW BEST.
My one complaint with this novel is actually with the ending because god dammit, it could have either been horribly depressing or almost too tidy and happy. I honestly have no idea what Walton intended, and I think she intentionally left it open to intepretation but dammit! I want to know THE TRUTH. Do you feel me, dear readers? Or am I the only nut who, unless the author EXPLICITLY states what happens, can’t get a perfect sense of closure? Yes? No?
Also, I would be a total asshole if I didn’t say that this book could be MASSIVELY triggering for some people. There is a fairly horrific depiction of sexual assault that, though handled well, is horribly upsetting. So if that’s not your thing, don’t read this book.
Point being, one million stars forever and ever. I loved this book just about as hard as a person can love a book.
For music, even though the actual sound of this song doesn’t match the tone of the book at all, I still want to match it up because COME ON.
(They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”)
Where I got it: the library