By Leslye Walton
Available now from Candlewick
THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is an unusual read. It is beautifully written, with unique turns of phrase and indelible imagery. It is magical realism of the best sort, where the strange becomes mundane and yet still extraordinary.
It fits a little awkwardly in the YA category. Ostensibly, Ava Lavender is the protagonist and this is her story. It reads much more like a family saga. The book traces the lives of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, as well as the men in their lives. Sometimes it follows along the lives of other passing characters, spinning out the strange connections between them. Almost half of the book passes before Ava is even born.
The women in Ava's family are marked by tragic, foolish love. As much as I loved the writing, I was turned off by this aspect of the book. The lives of her ancestors are pretty brutal and tragic, misery porn wrapped up in a layer of literary sophistication. But I kept reading because I did love the writing, and I wanted to reach Ava and learn her story, what made her sorrows stand out above the rest.
I think THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is an amazing accomplishment, particularly for a first-time author. It has a singular voice and a clear vision of what it is and what it is trying to achieve. The plot is much tighter than it appears at first, and the depiction of obsessive love is terrifying. At the same time, I felt like I still wasn't sure who Ava Lavender was when I finished the book. Too much of it wasn't her story.
I highly recommend THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER for readers looking for an unusual fantasy, something gorgeous and sad. I hope Leslye Walton's sophomore novel is just as striking.