Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Okay, so this book has pretty glowing reviews. I mean, it has a 4.12 on Goodreads with 20,577 ratings currently.
However...I am so conflicted about this book. My favorite author on Goodreads, who reviews books pretty harshly and blatantly and rarely gives high scores, gave this book 5 stars. That only made me want to read it MORE. And so I did: all in the span of yesterday. I'm still mulling this story over, but I have my thoughts gathered.
I want to give this book 4 stars. I'm leaning more toward 3.5.
A recap (in my own words and from my own memory): The book is narrated in first person by Ava herself (which proves to be confusing frequently throughout). She is recounting her family history to the present events. She starts with her great-grandparents: Beauregard Roux and Maman, who marry and move from France to American in Manhattan. They have 4 children: Rene, Margaux, Pierette, and Emilienne. Beauregard dies due to murder, as someone mistook him for someone else. His family thinks he left them for another woman or life. Rene is the only boy and extremely handsome and dies by gunshot to the face. Margaux becomes pregnant by Emilienne's love interest and cuts her own heart out, and the baby dies. Pierette becomes a bird (???) and dies on the way to Seattle with Emilienne. Emilienne sets up home in the house at the end of Pinnacle Lane in Seattle, the house which Fatima Ines used to live in, who makes no sense. She had doves as pets and waited for her ship captain brother to return and bring her gifts and she was celebrated on the Summer Solstice with all kinds of crazy performances and such. She once took a wafer from Mass and it caught on fire...and she was taken away to a mental institution, yet people still respected her and celebrated her with Summer Solstice (???). Emilienne marries Connor Lavender, yet doesn't really love him. She bears a daughter, Viviane, and Connor dies. They have a bakery that Emilienne runs but no-one will come to buy anything because they think she is a witch. At least not until an Indian-American woman, Wilhelmina, comes in and sets up some voodoo like stuff (not good wording lol) and people begin to come. Viviane grows up and is in love with Jack Griffith, whose mother is controlled by her abusive husband, John, who also treats Jack horribly. Jack goes away to school and meets Laura Lovelorn and gets engaged to her not for love, but for money and his father's approval. Viviane waits for Jack to return and learns of Laura at the Summer Solstice. They have sex in the garden and Viviane becomes pregnant with twins. For inexplicable reasons, Ava is born with wings and Henry is mute.
The timespan of all of this is fuzzy to me: World War I occurred and it is the 50's for some time. Ava was born on March 1, 1944. During the War, Gabe comes to live with Emilienne and Viviane, and falls in love with Viviane. The dates of WWI are Jul 28, 1914 – Nov 11, 1918...
Margaux died on March 1, 1923 along with her baby. Connor Lavender died of a heart attack December 22, 1925
It is when Ava and Henry are fifteen that all the events occur important to Ava. (1959)
So Viviane never falls out of love with Jack. Emilienne never really was a mother to Viviane. Affection doesn't really exist in this family. Gabe loves Viviane but she is nothing but blank to him, as she is blindly hoping Jack will come back. He does, but married to Laura and moves back into his dad's house, who has lost all control due to his wife leaving him.
The Connors move in and Ava befriends Cardigan and Rowe. Emilienne hires their mother, Penelope, for the bakery and is haunted by the ghosts of her siblings and Fatima. Ava doesn't leave the house for fifteen years, and neither does Viviane.
Ava sneaks out with Cardigan a lot and people don't really care about her wings. Okay.
Ava and Rowe fall in love and their romance is actually cute and there is love for the first time in the book that isn't sad or awkward.
Marigold Pie is a pious 75 pound woman who gets addicted to Emilienne's sweets and becomes fat, so her relatives move in, Nathaniel Sorrows and his mother. His mother thinks he will be a saint...and he is actually really creepy and obsesses over Ava when he sees her. He thinks she is an angel and thus wants to defile her?? He lures her in into his house and rapes her...he has a bunch of dead birds everywhere. He's kept Marigold drugged and his mother is gone??
And the whole time Henry has been prophesying was happens to Ava because "the Sad Man," Rene's ghost, has been telling him.
Fatima's ghost makes random appearances and converses with Ava after her attack. She also talks to Rene's ghost who said she would die soon? And the ending made it seem like she did die.
It was mentioned at her birth that her wings could not be removed because her whole systems relied on them. They were connected to her circulatory and nervous systems. Yet Nathaniel saws them off and she lives...is it because of the medical advances? Or does she really die?
And why was she born with wings? What significance does that even have? She can't fly, she doesn't go to school, and she is just accepted by others...Henry's whole purpose in the book is warning about what happens to Ava.
Emilienne and Viviane suddenly come closer after Ava's attack and Viviane and Gabe finally get together.
I don't know. I just did not get the story line. However, I found the writing extremely immersive, which is why I kept reading.
The climax disturbed me and I strongly disliked it. And Nathaniel got killed by the ghosts?? Just got burned away with hellfire? Jack turned out to be a douche and Viviane finally did not love him anymore after collecting Henry from him. And why did Henry draw maps other than because of Ava's attack?
This book was just too mystical for me without any explanation.Walton wrote at the end in her "On Writing in the Rain" that she set it in Seattle with historical context in order to counter the weird - she had Pierette, who she confirmed turned into a canary, the character who disappeared into a pile of blue ash, and Ava born with wings. Why? She wanted to weave the "magic and mundane together seamlessly," but I guess it just didn't work for me.