Book Review | The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

alTitleThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

AuthorLeslye Walton

Genre: Young Adult | Fiction > Magical Realism

Synopsis: 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 naïve 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.

Final Rating: 

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Check out this book’s Goodreads page!

Aimal's Review blue

I am perhaps among the .01% of the people who didn’t like this book. I have heard nothing but glowing reviews, and this has been recommended to me left and right from people who adore and appreciate every genre imaginable. Some of my favorite bloggers and vloggers include this book among their ‘all-time favorites’ and even though this didn’t sound like the most interesting thing to me (I’m not into bird-like things), I couldn’t help but give it a go. And believe me when I say that I am genuinely sad that I didn’t like this. Because it’s not that this is a bad book; by no means is it a bad book. It’s just something that I, personally, could not get into. So this review is more about personal preference than anything else.

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One of the more interesting points about this novel is that it spans a very long period of time, and it contains three different protagonists. The title may be misleading since it seems that you’re focusing on one character, but you’re actually seeing this character’s life as well as her mother and grandmother’s lives. I’m a fan of generational (is that a word) fiction, so this was something that I really enjoyed.

BUT (yes, there’s a big but – lol sorry, the child in me just giggled), I thought this novel was trying to do TOO much with TOO little. Bear in mind that this is 300 pages, which is short by any standard. The font isn’t small either, so was it really the best idea to try and tell the life stories of three different women in 300 pages? I’m not convinced that that worked, because for the most part, I felt like I was reading three separate biographies rather than one cohesive novel. If this was bigger, if each character got the attention and detail they deserved, I might have liked this a lot more. But as it is now, it read a lot like “this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened” and that got monotonous and unappealing.

This is where the “personal preference” thing kicks in. I was more invested in Ava’s grandmother’s story than anybody else’s because it was so tragically beautiful. However, Emilienne’s story is only the first 30 pages of the novel- and so much shit goes down in those 30 pages that it starts to feel almost comical and gimicky. Like, how many deaths are you possibly going to fit in 30 pages? There’s only so much you can do.

And that leads me to another point: the pacing. The first fifty pages start off with a bang; shit is hitting the fan from everywhere, and then all of a sudden, everything dies down completely. It’s almost like the beginning and the rest of the novel aren’t even the same thing? So while I was completely engrossed in the first quarter, I was just as disinterested in the rest.

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Now, I’m not too sure of what I think about the characters. On the one hand, I think they all had very distinct ‘feels’ and of course, very detailed back-stories. On the other hand, I don’t think I knew them too well. And that goes all the way back to “doing too much with too little.” Three different women. Three different stories. 300 pages. I couldn’t get invested in the characters because their stories were so fleeting, and while they do appear in each others’ stories, they feel like background noise. Let me expand on this. Emilienne (the grandmother) is the star for the first 30 pages, then Viviane (the mother) is the star for the next 100 or so pages. When Viviane is the star, Emilienne just becomes an object in the background, so there’s literally 0 character development there.

It’s almost like Walton was so set on making you feel bad for the characters that she didn’t give them personalities. And I am so sorry to say this, but I feel so disappointed because each of these women were strong within their own right, but their full potential was not explored. And while I can see how much these characters can accomplish, it just wasn’t done on paper. In the end, what’s on the page is what counts.

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Leslye Walton does many things right when it comes to her writing style. Vivid imagery, carefully constructed metaphors, thought-provoking sentence structures, lovely vocabulary. If I had to describe her writing in one positive term, I would say “atmospheric.” BUT (and again, I am genuinely sorry to say this because I hate critiquing writing since writing is so subjective), if I had to give it a negative term, I would say “pretentious.” A lot like Tahereh Mafi, the skill is there. It just needs to be toned down a little bit. There was symbolism everywhere – it was all over the fucking place. And while the imagery and the figurative language was very effective and, I might add, beautiful, it became annoying by how heavy it was in symbolism. And I might sound like a broken record here but think about it. 300 pages. 3 characters. 3 different life stories. Symbolism in almost every paragraph. It’s like a recipe for the perfect disaster.

But it’s not a disaster. There are many things in this novel that redeem it. The writing was beautiful. The premise was interesting. The characters were detailed. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good for me. I’ll still be interested in what Walton has to offer, but I have – alas – come to the conclusion that magical realism is not for me. Especially when it revolves around bird-like things.

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Comments

  1. I think The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows is either a hit or miss – either you love the book for its flowery purpose prose or you don’t. I think you’re justified in thinking the latter though!

    I loved Ava’s grandmother’s story too. It was really tragic and sad, and I wish it got more time of the day, rather than leaving her forgotten in the bakery (if I recall correctly)?

    Even though I enjoyed this book, I enjoyed reading your review too. I love reading different perspectives! 😀 Thanks for the review, Aimal!

    • I agree! I think it’s all a matter of personal preference. I, personally, am not a fan of flowery prose (even when I can objectively admire it). I’m more into direct, simple writing.
      And yes, that annoyed me so much! Emilienne was so interesting, what with her inability and hesitance to love anyone after her tragic childhood/adolescence. But all that was forgotten and she just became a baker and I was like whaaaaaaat.
      Thank you very much! That means a whole lot to me. <3

      • Fair enough! I understand that it can be overbearing. But that’s the beauty of writing though – people can see the beauty in different things. 😀

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