A lyrical, beautifully melancholy and dreamlike book, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Here on probably just referred to as Ava Lavender, because I’m lazy) is an ideal cold, dark evening read for fans of tragic love stories and rich, interesting families.
Ava Lavender is a very special girl. She was born in a small town, outside of Seattle in America, with the wings of a bird sprouting from her back. Throughout the first half of the book, Ava traces the tragic, heartbroken women of her ancestry – the Roux family, who emigrated from France to America in 1912. Interlaced with each and every one of them, is a melancholy history of love and loss, of headstrong, foolish emotions and of strange, beautiful abilities. As she tells each tale, she builds up the strange and inherently sad atmosphere that soaks its way into the entire novel, from her Grandmother, Emilienne Roux, and the short, violent lives of her siblings in Manhattan, through her lovelorn and lost mother Vivianne, who can smell when the rain is coming and whether expectant mothers are having a boy or a girl, before finally the story settles on the naive, sheltered teenaged Ava, who has spent her entire life hidden from the world by a mother who is terrified of what the world will do to a strange, innocent girl with bird’s wings. As the young protagonist grows restless, we see her sneaking out to be with other boys and girls her own age, to begin to write her own chapter of heartache in the Roux family story…
Ava Lavender is a book with a world that so wholly wraps you up and embraces you with the sweet, yet softly sad atmosphere that clings to each and every page. The Roux women are all of them beautifully strong, wilful, compassionate and wonderfully flawed in their own ways, whether it’s Emilienne’s cold distance or Vivianne’s single minded love. Ava herself is a wonderful lead character, fascinated by the world she’s shielded from, with a positivity that comes from her youth and the lack of experience that her mother and grandmother have learned from. However, Ava Lavender is more than just the story of the Roux women, and there are brilliant supporting characters throughout the novel at various points in time. Ava’s almost mute, savant twin brother, Henry, is sweet and isolated, but he never feels abandoned, and his desire for solitude is written in a touching way. Gabe, the houseguest and handyman of the Roux women, is a gentle giantish character with such compassion and such a huge heart that everything he does, despite how unappreciated it may be, is done with unconditional love. I also absolutely loved Wilhelmina, the Emilienne’s hired hand in the bakery, and unofficial nanny to the children thoughout the book. In fact, from the wickedness of Nathaniel Sorrows and weakness of Jack Griffith, to the youthful passion and friendship of Cardigan and Rowe Cooper, the book is absolutely full of brilliantly written, fully realised characters who leap from the page, whether we love them or despise them – We yearn to read more about them.
The setting for Ava Lavender is delightfully American, a world of power and of passion, but also one of sadness and regret. It has such an atmosphere about the book that it draws you in, with its meandering, often unreliable, jaunts through history with a lyrical, beautiful word-of-mouth writing style. I felt so swept up in the feeling this book leaves you with, and on more than one cold, dark train ride home, it was nice to escape to this warm, soft world, which wraps you up in love and pain like a blanket. The story does come to a powerful, dark and haunting conclusion, which I found difficult to read, and the aftermath of it delivers a serious emotional impact that rattles around in the brain for weeks afterwards.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a gorgeous book, with a beautiful writing style, and wonderfully imagined characters. I can’t wait to read more from Leslye – She’s got a brilliant talent for narrative and character development.
As always, thanks for reading/sharing.
P.S. The book does contain sexual content, particularly violence, and may be a trigger for some readers.
P.P.S. You can find discussion about the book on Twitter with the hashtag #AvaLavender