Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Candlewick Press. 2014. Reviewed from ARC. Morris Finalist.

The Plot: To understand Ava Lavender and her wings, you have to understand her mother and her grandmother before her. So Ava tells the story of the three generations of women in her family, of their loves, and how they survived heart break and loss.

And how Ava was born with wings, and how that shaped her life.

The Good: Yes, Ava was born with wings -- The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a beautifully written work of magical realism. Ava's being born with wings is something obvious to the world, but there are other things throughout the book, from a sister who turns herself into a bird to ghosts to how the women in Ava's family sometimes see or hear or smell the world around them.

I loved the language of this book, and began jotting down phrases almost from the start: "Foreseeing the future, I would later learn, means nothing if there is nothing to be done to prevent it." "My whole heart for my entire life."

When telling the story of her mother Viviane and grandmother Emilienne, the women who raised her, Ava concentrates mostly on their loves and lost loves and betrayals of their teen years. And while the introduction mentions things that Ava does as a grown woman, the story in the book -- like the stories of Vivane -- takes place during Ava's teen years. Obviously, Emilienne and Viviane grown older, but the most important part of their lives -- the part that Ava talks about -- are the parts when they are young women.

I mention this in part because, given the multiple generation storytelling and that Ava's own story doesn't start until half way through, it's tempting to wonder why this is a young adult book and not an adult book. I know I did -- but I think it's because, in part, the most important things that happen in Emilienne and Viviane and Ava's lives, the things that shape them, the things the book are about are all events from their years as young women.

I can easily see who I would recommend this book to -- the language is lovely and lush. Readers who like magical realism. Teens who want something different from a reading experience. And book discussion groups -- there is a lot to talk about and examine and analyze.

I have to confess something, though. This is the book that shows I can read not just as a reader, but as a librarian, looking to see who would like a book and also recognizing just how great a book. But. And sorry -- but this isn't a book for "me", as a reader. If I were on a committee, I would be open to persuasion and open to arguments about why to vote for this book. But for me, the way that loss and despair practically broke Emilienne and Vivianne for so long -- it just was too depressing. And (more spoilers) there is a violent attack at the end that bothered me not so much from the realism of the violence and hatred, but for what was behind it. Again: this is a personal, reader reaction. That's about me, not the book.

Other reviews: the School Library Journal Someday My Printz Will Come blog; Steph Sinclair at the Tor blog; A Book and a Latte.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

4 comments:

Jessica Cooley said...

Wonderful review! My experience with this novel was very similar. As a reader this book wasn't for me either and as a librarian I tend to give it to adult readers of YA. I've had no teens read this one yet - they all wrinkle their noses and shake their heads. I'm inclined to this should have been published for adults readers who enjoy Isabel Allende.

Liz B said...

Yes, I'm thinking readers of Allende, Hoffman, Lia Block -- and when I've had those teen readers, their tends not to be a lot to hand them so I'm glad there will be something else with this book.

What I do like about the book is how much there is to discuss. Like the portrayals of the men. And what is real or dream or what does it represent. And why that time period?

readingunderground.org said...

Thanks so much for sharing this review! This book is next up on my 2014 Best of the Very Best reading challenge list, and I'm intrigued to see what I think about it after reading your review. I'm pretty familiar with that feeling of "this book is not my cup of tea, but it's still one I'd recommend to my patrons."

alibrarianslibrary said...

I just finished this book tonight, and I must say, I am glad that I am not alone on the wondering-if-this-is-really-YA front. Personally, I don't feel that it is. That said, I do agree with your review--this is a beautiful and magical story.

Thanks for sharing!

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