As I read this book, I was subconsciously trying to sort it into a genre. Obviously, fiction. But realistic fiction? Not quite. Fantasy? Almost, but not really. Ultimately, I never made a concrete decision about the genre. But I did realize that this book was something special. When people asked me what I was reading and what it was about, I said “It’s about a girl who was born with wings,” because that was the simplest way to put it. But really, it is so much more than that. “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton is a quilt, with colorful squares of realistic and historical fiction, and a subtle border of fantasy and classical writing around the edges; a combination that makes this book beautiful and unique, and a book that every book-love can read and truly enjoy.
The story starts with Emilienne Roux, a young French immigrant who has come with her family to the big city of Manhattan in 1912. At a young age, she experiences both love and loss. As tragedy befalls her family and the world loses colour around her, she moves her family to Seattle to escape. As the lonely years pass, Emilienne watches from her bakery’s window as her daughter Viviane Lavender falls in love with neighborhood boy Jack Griffith. Jack Griffith leaves Viviane with nothing but a broken heart and a pair of fatherless children. Viviane’s daughter, Ava Lavender is the narrator of the story. Ava was born with wings. Ava tells the typical tale of adolescence, of first kisses and first heartbreaks. But on the outside, Ava, with her beautiful angel wings is certainly not typical. She must learn to navigate the world of love and loss she was brought into; a world where she is defined by her wings.
Being able to see Ava’s thoughts was a beautiful thing. On the exterior, her wings make her different, but in her heart she feels the same emotions as any other teenage girl. Ava gives us a look into her life; a look at her autistic brother and at her love life. One reason I enjoyed this book was how deeply and uniquely it explored the concept of love. As Ava grows, it is truly fascinating to watch her knowledge and understanding of love develop. Reading this book, my understanding of familial, romantic, and obsessive love grew. It was amazing to see how love influenced each character in a fresh and interesting way.
Another thing I loved about the book was the way it depicted each generation; Emilienne, Ava’s grandmother, then Viviane, Ava’s mother, and lastly Ava herself. I could see that each character’s profound history truly shaped them. Each character’s problems were new and unique, which made the book all the more interesting. The depiction of Ava’s ancestry led to the question “How is this possible?”. How can Ava, who’s narrating through the first-person, be aware of the intimate details of the lives of her mother and grandmother? I was confused, but then I realized that this is what added a sense of magic and mystery to the story; what made it unique.
Overall, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Anyone who reads this book will fall in love with the characters and the plot. I had no idea that when I picked it up at the library randomly that I would love it so much. My advice to you? Read it. Even if this book doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. If you open your heart to the beautiful story of Ava Lavender, you will certainly fall in love.