Friday, June 27, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

There are two factors that brought Leslye Walton's The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender to my attention: one was, of course, Goodreads. At one point not too long ago that book was one of its "movers & shakers." But even though Goodreads brought the book to my attention, I probably would not have thought to click on the description had it not been for the way the title (which is also pretty fantastic) had been carefully placed on the incredible cover art. I try not to judge a book by its cover, really I do, but I sincerely hope they do the paperback as much justice as they have the hardback edition.

The Situation: There are currently three generations that live in the house at the end of the ominously named Pinnacle Lane. The oldest would be Emilienne, the grandmother, who had already survived both of her parents, as well as two sisters and a brother, before moving to Seattle, only to soon lose her husband as well. Her daughter, Viviane, hasn't left the house in 15 years, after she was left by the love of her life. She also forbids her two children, Henry and Ava, from leaving the house as well. If they were ordinary children with nothing special about them, she probably would not force her reclusive nature onto them. But Henry doesn't communicate well, and doesn't like to be touched. And Ava, while fairly normal in every other way, was born with the wings of a bird.

The Problem: While the neighborhood eventually moved past the whispers claiming that Emilienne was a witch, and now frequent her bakery without hesitation, Viviane remains a recluse, and for the most part, so do her children. Henry does occasionally venture out with Gabe, a man who took up residence in the house during the war, and has proved especially skilled at making detailed maps of the places they go. Even Ava ventures out with her best friend, but no one knows about it, except for a few kids from the school that Viviane doesn't let her daughter attend. Ava manages to come home safe every night, and what her mother doesn't know doesn't hurt her. But there is someone who does notice Ava's nightly escapes with her friend. And while the man believes Ava to be an angel, his fascination is one dangerous step from becoming an obsession, and Viviane's fear that the outside world isn't ready for a girl born with the wings of a bird may be prove to be warranted.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel with many elements of a fantasy, the most prominent of which being that Ava is born with wings...with feathers and everything. Also, her great-grandmother, Emilienne's mother, died by basically fading away into nothing, until eventually she was just a pile of ashes left on the kitchen floor. And Viviane's aunt, Emilienne's sister, managed to turn herself into a canary in order to get a local bird watcher to notice her (it didn't work). Also, the house where they all live on Pinnacle Lane has its own sordid history, and it is rumored to be haunted by the previous owner. No one even goes into the third floor, which Ava basically glosses over just by stating that no one goes up there anymore. And birds and feathers are everywhere. While there is more than enough story just surrounding Ava and her condition, the book gives an entire history of the family, beginning with Emilienne's immigration with her family to New York before the First World War. In fact, because Ava was born in 1944 and is the book's narrator, this could be categorized as historical fiction. In short, there is quite a bit going on in this book.

My Verdict: This is certainly not like any other book I have ever read. But even so, it isn't so out there and strange that it is hard to grasp or understand. It is creative, imaginative, profound, heartbreaking, and even hopeful. There are moments where the illusion was broken for me, mostly when there was a bad transition, or a less than believable back story given to a character as a reason for them to show up on the scene. But for the most part, the world that Walton has created is so complete and so enticing, despite some of the dangers that come with it, that it is very easy to get lost in it and not want to leave. And for me, the beauty of the cover art seemed to translate through the writer's descriptions of the scenery and events. And somehow, the idea of this taking place in a real place like Seattle doesn't take away from the fantasy, but actually adds to it. Not sure how she did that, but she did, and it's incredible.

Favorite Moment: When the main person who had been insistent on referring to Emilienne as a witch acknowledges the reason behind his prejudice. 

Favorite Character: For once, this is difficult for me not because there is no one to like, which is often the problem with modern fiction, but because there are so many people to like. All three of the Lavender women are remarkable in their own way, while still having flaws that they must work through. So I suppose I'll pick Rowe, the older brother of Ava's best friend, Cardigan. He works as the delivery boy for Emilienne's bakery before he goes off to college. He always sticks up for Ava and even protects her from his little sister's machinations to force her out into society. He's simply a sweet boy who doesn't just see Ava as a girl with wings.

Recommended Reading: For this book, I will recommend Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. Both books have created their own world within the history of this one. And they are both world's that are a little outside our version of reality, but not so much so that we can't relate to the characters and their struggles.

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