Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published by Candlewick Press on March 25th 2014
Genres: Family, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Multigenerational, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Length: 8 hrs. 32 mins.
Source: Publisher, Purchase
Buy on Amazon

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava — in all other ways a normal girl — is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the summer solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to 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 Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a unique story that reads like a dark fairy tale. Ava Lavender recounts the story of the Roux family, from the origins of her grandmother Emilienne’s bakery to her mother’s hopeless love for Ava’s father. The unusual story sparkles with magical realism and fairy tale language, and the descriptions of the French pastries made my mouth water!

Ava is a girl born with wings- she’s hidden away by her mother Viviane but longs to be an everyday girl. At sixteen, she gets to spread her wings, so to speak, and get a taste of typical teenage life with her friend Cardigan. Ava’s story is set in Seattle in around 1960, though the story has a timeless quality to it. It’s a story about how love can really do a number on you.

I don’t read a lot of books that feature magical realism- I think they intimidate me a little bit. But with Ava Lavender I just went with it and soon fell under its spell. Plus, I love birds so I was fascinated with the idea of a girl with wings. Though the story has some fantastical elements it’s rooted in reality with familiar places and references to ground you. There are also many memorable side characters that are put to good use in Ava Lavender.

The prologue pulled me in:

To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.

I was just a girl.

Don’t you want to read more? The writing in this book is really luscious.

Another way this story is unique is that Ava narrates the story of her family legacy and it is quite a while before she herself is the focus. Her family history of sorrow gives Ava’s story more meaning, and Ava’s journey from her “nest” had me on edge. This book has some weird and disturbing scenes.

I alternated reading and listening to this book. Cassandra Campbell reads the audiobook and sets the tone of this magical story well. Campbell uses different voices and accents to bring this fantastical story to life, and has a soothing tone to comfort you during some of the more violent passages. What you don’t get in the audiobook is the beautiful cover art, the family tree that’s included in the print edition, and to linger over the beautiful passages. So, ideally I’d read and listen to this one.

Check out an audiobook excerpt:


Leslye Walton’s debut is an atmospheric and magical read that’s darkly beautiful and complex, yet accessible. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a finalist for the William C. Morris Award for debut YA fiction.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

  1. This sounds like my kind of book Lucy:-) I’m also thinking it reminds me a bit of Alice Hoffman, but maybe because she’s so amazing at magic realism. Thanks for reviewing it!

    1. Lucy says:

      I think this one is right up your alley, Tammy. Hope you give it a read sometime!

  2. I just read this one and LOVED it, despite having read some really lackluster reviews prior to starting it. I’m so happy to hear that I’m not alone 🙂 It’s weird, sure, but I just found it totally entrancing!

    Susan @ Teen Underground recently posted: Teaser Tuesday!
    1. Lucy says:

      Entrancing is the perfect word for it! You’re right- the reviews are a little mixed, but those that love it really love it 🙂

  3. […] The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, performed by Cassandra Campbell […]

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