The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

Foolish love appears to be a Roux family birthright. And for Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is an ominous thing to inherit.

In her quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to join her peers, sixteen-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world. But it is a dangerous world for a naive girl - a world which may view her as girl or angel. On the night of the summer solstice celebration, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava’s journey and her family’s saga reaches 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. The magical realism weaves through this generational saga which is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a sensuous tale of a girl born with wings, with a taste of Chocolate and the shadow play of a Tim Burton film.


Take a pinch of Margo Lanagan and a dash of Jaclyn Moriarty to form an idea of what this debut author has to offer. Her generational saga, spanning 1904 to 1960, gives a sense of time and place but makes excellent use of magical realism.

Members of the unfortunate Roux family, who depart France for America in 1912 seeking a better life, are transformed by heartbreak in fanciful or ghastly ways. Although the book title suggests that Ava Lavender is the main character, we invest equally in her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Viviane, whose stories are about rejection and prejudice as well as how we react to pain of body and soul. Emilienne loses her family one by one and eventually the ability to show love. Loss also transforms Viviane, which in turn leaves her daughter leading a freakish life. However, none of this heartbreak prepares the reader for what later happens to Ava. By that point we’re so invested in the character, and her family, that it’s not a strange or beautiful sorrow but a solid despair that takes us towards the final pages. It’s a tricky book to bring to a conclusion, but ultimately there’s hope and a young girl’s strength, which befits the genre.

Highly recommended.

Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time.

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