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

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

Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Publication date: 27 March 2014
by Candlewick Press

Format: Paperback


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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.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

WARNING: Lots of gushing. I, just, can’t even review this book, guys – I mainly just want to roll around on the floor and occasionally scream at passer-bys into reading it.


This book has elements of everything that I love about fiction, it pushes at the boundaries of our imagination while telling raw truths about humanity. Despite being a slim 300-pages, this lyrical novel manages to span three generations and numerous tragedies. The tone of the book is often sombre, yet it never loses that glint of hope in the power of human love. Needless to say, The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender has catapulted into my top reads of 2015.

Like many of you, compelling female characters is my fictional kryptonite. They don’t have to be physically or mentally strong – heck, they don’t even have to be relatable, they just need to move off the page and pull me into their story. The titular Ava Lavender shares her story with her mother and grandmother, showing us how our stories are the culmination of all the tales that have transpired before us.


It all begins with Emiliene and her tight-knit family, who’s displaced from rural France to seedy Manhattan in the 1920s. Her story is one of pain and loss, it marks a theme the book will come back to time and again – Love makes us fools. Emiliene decided to shelter her heart from love by the tender age of 19, a decision made after she witnessed the death and destruction of her entire family by the cruel hands of love. She distances herself emotionally from her husband, and subsequently, her daughter. As a character, Emiliene spends much of the book hiding: whether it’s from specters of her siblings, from human connections – yet relationships pushes through and makes their mark on her life regardless of her reservations.

Her daughter, Viviane, seemed charmed in love – having grown up with her childhood sweetheart: Jack Griffith. Nonetheless, by the end of her teenage years – Viviane ended up another victim of love. Only love for her children: Ava and Henry, saves her from the brink. I really adored seeing how love does not come easily to these women, so wounded as they are – yet it still blooms strong and true. The relationship between the three lead females is complex and compelling. While each was extraordinary: Emiliene with her keen perception of the otherwordly, Viviane with her sharp sense of smell and intuition, Ava with her wings – their emotions were grounded, making them women rather than mythical creatures.


I’ve read a couple of other reviews on Goodreads, so I know this is a contentious point – but I think Ava Lavender nailed magical realism and surrealism. While the story was difficult to follow at times due to the non-linear nature of the writing, I thought it thematically rang true. I was not disappointed to see Ava Lavender only featured in 1/3 of the book, as the previous generations were equally important to the storyline. I loved how everything tied together at the end, although I was sad to see the book conclude as I had to say goodbye to the gorgeous writing.


Speaking of which, writing in this book is a thing to behold – I could gorge through VOLUMES of Walton’s brand of lush, evocative and image-filled proses. I could hardly believe that Ava Lavender is Leslye Walton’s debut! Each sentences rang with poetry, I have practically 75% of this book tabbed because EVERYTHING is my favourite sentence. The writing was at once hypnotic and humorous. Although I often find it hard to connect to characters all dressed up in beautiful proses, the emotions in Ava Lavender remains visceral and raw. Honestly, I had such a hard time picking out my quotes for this review – I highly suggest that you experience this beautiful story first hand!


Needless to say, this book has the Aentee-stamp all over it!  I would recommend it to everyone partial to gorgeous writing, wonderful women, and haunting stories of love and lost. It cements magical realism as one of my favourite genres – so gimme all of your magical realism recs, people!

Rating Report
Overall: 4.7
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I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.


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  1. says

    Now this sounds simply marvellous! Your review makes me want to read this so badly now. I’ve heard about this book and I’ve seen it flit in and out of the blogosphere and book community, but was never particularly interested in it. Probably because the hype on this book wasn’t so high compared to all the crazy hyped books this year.

  2. says

    Yes, I loved this book so much! It started well, since it had a GORGEOUS cover, but the inside was also beautiful. I loved the writing and that it involves magical realism, since I haven’t read that many books in this genre. I relate to the three female characters, they all rang true. By the way, at the beginning of the novel, Emilienne lived at Trouville-sur-Mer and I went there this summer :D

  3. says

    I’ve heard absolutely wonderful things about this book so far and reading your lovely review just made me more certain that I need this book in my life :D Magical realism is underrated – I love the whimsy of it myself! The way you described the writing and the women sounds like perfection to me ♥
    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews recently posted…ARC Review: TruthwitchMy Profile


  1. […] The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: I recently finished this one and immediately kicked myself for taking so long to pick it up. The proses in book is exemplary of the lyrical, evocative writing style that I love so much. Walton mixes her hypnotic writing with a tragic yet hopeful tale about strangely beautiful women and the folly of love. It left me in a daze for days! My review. […]