“The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” – A Review

A week after reading it, I was still keeping this book on my bedside table, in a hopeless attempt to convince myself that I was still reading it. Wickedly humorous and wistful, this book for me was the literary equivalent to coming in from the wind and the rain and the dark into the golden, yolk-yellow warmth of home. I was so reluctant for it to end.

Such Cover Love!

The story was a unique one, and reading the plot description I was both excited and nervous. I could see it, so easily, falling into all of the horrible YA traps and holes that so many promising novels fall into. I could already see a heroine who pretended she wasn’t beautiful, and jolting, smirky talk with badass boys with a soft side – all sorts of things that I’m ever so slightly sick to the death of in my teen fiction. But no. The fifth page in, I had this lovely excited twitching in my fingertips and flutter of the heart. This was not going to be one of those books.

The writing style is fantastic; it was made up of light, ava lavenderdreamlike prose and these beautiful and unexpected metaphors that it wasn’t too stuffed with. It didn’t sound like a book that was trying to be something, trying to be exquisite, trying to be moving. It was just… telling a story.

And what a story. Told over three generations of women of the same family, each doomed by love, it was a tale that wound its icy hand around my heart and hasn’t let it go since. Ava’s fable is the third to be told in the novel and knowing about her grandmother, and her mother and her history makes her story, almost the culmination of her family’s experience, all the more exquisite.

Leslye Walton is one of those rare breeds of authors that can reveal so much in so few well-placed words and it is perhaps due to this that in reading, I got such a strong sense of time and place. She captures the feeling of a moment or a setting and somehow, across a page of punctuation and letters, passes it on to the reader, leaving me with an urge to jump into a time machine all the way to 1920s New York. The characters too were created, vivid and fully formed with merely a few words or sentences. Instead of “jumping off the page” they hovered at my shoulders like Emilienne’s ghosts and followed me around all day, always at the back of my mind. Their interactions, talking to one another felt real and yet better than reality. The dialogue was perfect, beautifully crafted and lovely and the unspoken was even better. You get the impression that the writer really understands humans for the messy, frequently confused and spikey but every so often incredible creatures that I like to think we are.

ava lavender 2The care and love that Leslye Walton provoked in me for her characters was bewilderingly immense, and this made watching the series of heartbreaks that they were subjected to all the more devastating. Because it is true, what the title suggests, you do read of the sorrows of Ava, but also of her mother and her grandmother, and they’re all heart-wrenching. But interspersed with this, there are moments revealing the very best in humanity (looking at you, Gabe, and you lovely Connor). ava lavender 3Like one of Emmelienne’s pastries, it was the perfect mixture of ingredients – sad and happy, sweet and bitter – baked to bookish perfection.

Thinking that I could go home to read it was the best part of my day and I’m fairly certain that it will stay with me for a long time. I’m not going to embarrass everyone by claiming that it changed my life, but it certainly did make it just a little bit more enjoyable.


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