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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender Hardcover – March 25, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Walton's novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. Though the titular Ava serves as narrator and ultimately the tale's heroine, her story spans multiple generations, starting with her great-grandmother, remembered only as Maman, an immigrant to "Manhatine" two generations earlier. Through the eyes of her grandmother Emilienne, and then her mother Vivianne, Ava's lineage unfolds. Emilienne, suffering a broken heart, leaves New York and travels to Seattle, where she sets up shop as a baker on Pinnacle Lane. She gives birth to Vivianne, Ava's mother, who later suffers her own heartbreak and gives birth to Ava in 1944. Ava is a normal girl with one notable exception: she was born with the wings of a bird. Ava looks to the stories of her matriarchs to make sense of her own life and to understand how to navigate the world as both an "other" and a typical teenage girl. It is not until a fateful day in her 16th year that many narrative threads come to a head. This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved--desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. Difficult to categorize, this is a mystical tale, a historical novel, a coming-of-age story, laced with folkloric qualities and magic realism, often evocative of great narratives like Erin Morgenstern's transcendent The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) or the classic Like Water for Chocolate (Anchor, 1995) by Laura Esquivel. It is beautifully crafted and paced, mystical yet grounded by universal themes and sympathetic characters. A unique book, highly recommended for readers looking for something a step away from ordinary.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

From Booklist

Ava Lavender, a typical girl in every respect except for the fact that she was born with wings, sits upon a family tree of doomed lovers. Her great-grandfather, her grandmother, her aunts and uncles, and her mother were either unlucky or foolish in matters of the heart. Family stories have become local legend, and Ava must explore them all to discover the two questions that haunt her: Where did I come from? . . . What would the world do with a girl such as I? What the world eventually does is to foist itself rather viciously on her. Ava is alternately shaped and trapped by her family’s saga, and her voice at times gets lost in the telling. But it is a beautiful voice—poetic, witty, and as honest as family mythology will allow. There are many sorrows in Walton’s debut, and most of them are Ava’s through inheritance. Readers should prepare themselves for a tale where myth and reality, lust and love, the corporal and the ghostly, are interchangeable and surprising. Grades 9-12. --Kara Dean

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (March 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763665665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763665661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Jamie on April 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why I chose this book:
Honestly, I knew nothing about this book before I opened the cover. Even after reading the synopsis, I couldn't tell you what it was about. I had no clue why I wanted to read it so badly, but I did. So, I filled out a purchase request at the library, and when it came in--slightly before the release date--I had to sneak a peek. And I almost couldn't put it down.

4 Things You Should Know:

1. This is not your grandma's love story.
Ava may be the main character, but the book is about more than just her. The women of the Roux family have a long and sorrowful history of ill-fated love, which Ava catalogues faithfully, beginning with her great-grandmother. Told from Ava’s contemporary point-of-view, she chronicles the lives and deaths of her ancestors, as well as the peculiarly tragic ways in which love made fools of them. Ava herself does not reach the story of her own life until the middle of the book. When I encounter a novel like this, one that reaches far back into the ancestral well of despair, I usually grumble, sigh, and settle in for the ride, prepared to make the requisite investment in past lives and hoping the payoff at the end will be worth it. However, this was not the case. At all. I was as riveted by the three previous generations of Roux women as I was by Ava herself. Each character was so carefully recorded, each taking turns in the spot-light, that my heart was breaking alongside of theirs at every turn of the page.

2. Is this real life?
Magical realism--the straight-faced portrayal of events and circumstances so obviously otherworldly--is one of my favorite literary devices, and Walton folds magic into her prose so beautifully, I never question the little oddities that plague the Roux family.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I did not find this strange and beautiful, just strange and sad, sad sad. It was slow going at start with her family ancestry and all the bad things, the befell them: father dies, leaving mother to raise kids alone, unrequited love, murder of a gay son by his married lover, teen pregnancy by the sisters boyfriend, then the teen kills herself, and these ghosts followed the family, just to start. Even with this, it seemed kind of boring and hard to really get to the point. The Lavendars had sort of psychic powers, could feel the changes in nature, one had a most amazing sense of smell and could tell by smell sickness,love,etc., while Ava had wings and her twin brother was autistic, all interesting, but the violence made me want to just cry, especially the ending.

* warning sex and lots of violence, shot in the face leaving a ghost with no face, suicide, rape, brutal attack with a hatchet.
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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By PaperFury on April 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Yes, I've given this a low star-rating. Yes, I'm also horrified. Yes, I'm also mostly alone in my feelings of this book (it has a 4.10 average star rating on Goodreads!). And no, I will not be saying the title five times fast while I turn in a circle and pat my head. (But YOU can try it if you like.)

The ugly truth is: this book just didn't click with me.

And I wanted to like it! I really, really did! I'm utterly in love with the cover and the title. (Ava Lavender?! Isn't that just the most gorgeous name ever?!) It comes out in late March, but I read it on the 3rd of February because I was so excited for it.

Writing? Personally, I felt it was written like a very beautiful text book. History. There's hardly any scenes, hardly any dialogue. The first 120 pages are before Ava is even born! That's nearly HALF the book. It's not just about Ava Lavender (and this is where I get annoyed at the blurb, because it really tells you nothing about the book): it's about Ava's whole family history. Which is...interesting. But mildly boring.

I like scenes and dialogue and character-driven plots. This didn't have any of that.

It's all very tragic and beautiful though. I love the flow of the prose. It feels lyrical, definitely. The description really pops. They don't just say "cake" they say "butterscotch brownies". Every word feels well thought-out.

I was just so bored while I was appreciating the gorgeousness.

The names are fabulous! Some authors are just blessed with the ability to give the best names. Not only do we have Ava Lavender, we have Laura Lovelorn, Cardigan Cooper, Marigold Pie, Beauregard Roux, Viviane Lavender (that's Ava's mother) and Emilienne Roux. I lovelovelove it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gaby on March 25, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition

I've read a couple of times magical-realism but wasn't expecting to find it in a Young Adult book. I really didn't know what to expect from Ava, a sixteen-year old girl born with wings, sometimes mistaken for an angel.

The book starts with Ava's grandmother, the story about her parents and brothers, and how everything in the end is connected to Ava. Their family story and writing reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, definitely a plus for me.

I was hooked since the beginning, Ava's grandmother and mother both had a difficult life as consequence to foolish love. But Ava was a great girl, not only for having wings, but for her way to see life. Her family have been always the 'weird', but she's ready to face the world, very naive and not expecting her life to be so tragic.

Love. Ah. It's about love, but I wouldn't call it a romance book. It's realistic love, not happily ever after love, and more than narrating a romance, it's about how some relationships turn out being very sad and affect the lives of everyone around.

It may not be a book for everyone, it's not superficial or trivial, but I absolutely loved it! (although it broke my heart a couple of times). It only took me a few hours to read it, but who needs sleep right?. I definitely recommend it! Excellent addition to the YA literature.
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