Walton debuts with an entrancing and sumptuously written multigenerational novel wrapped in the language of fable, magical realism, and local legend. Ostensibly about a 16-year-old born with wings, the novel is also a rich retelling of Ava Lavender's family history, including her stalwart grandmother Emilienne's journey from adolescence in rural France and 1920s Manhattan to a hardscrabble life as a widowed baker in Seattle; and Ava's mother Viviane's unrequited obsession with a childhood love and the rearing of her children. Halfway in, Ava's story moves front and center, as she longs to leave the safety of her home, sneaks out with her friend Cardigan, and begins to fall for Cardigan's brother, Rowe. Flirting with fairytalelike occurrences throughout—Viviane has a supernatural sense of smell, one of Emilienne's siblings transforms into a bird, ghosts are everywhere—Walton's novel builds to a brutal but triumphant conclusion. It's a story that adults and teenagers can appreciate equally, one that's less about love than about the way love can be thwarted and denied. Or, as Walton puts it, "the scars love's victims carry." Ages 14–up. Agent: Bernadette Baker-Baughman, Victoria Sanders & Associates. (Mar.)
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
Lyrical magical realism paints four generations of women with tragic lives until a shocking violation fixes everything. First-person narrator Ava, who isn't even born until nearly halfway through the novel, never becomes the main character. Instead, the novel opens with Ava's great-grandmother in France and follows the family through the ill-fated romances and personal calamities that chase them to Manhattan and eventually Seattle. Surrounded by death and despised by their neighbors, the Lavender women live in seclusion even from one another. Ava's grieving grandmother Emilienne sees ghosts and ignores her daughter, Viviane. Viviane pines away from blighted love while raising its fruit: twins Ava and Henry. In the metaphor-made-flesh style of the genre, both children wear their oddness on their bodies. Henry would be autistic if his strangeness and language difficulties weren't conceived as fantastical abilities, and Ava is born with wings. Isolated and, ironically, flightless, Ava longs to be a normal girl; her only real social contact is an earthy, vivacious neighborhood girl named Cardigan. The story's language is gorgeous: "I turned and spread my wings open, as wide as they would go, feeling the wind comb its cold fingers through my feathers." Disturbingly, a horrific assault acts as the vehicle of redemption, magically bringing people together for reasons that make sense only in the dreamlike metaphysics of literary device. Gorgeous prose for readers willing to be blindsided. (Magical realism. 16 & up)
[A]n entrancing and sumptuously written multigenerational novel wrapped in the language of fable, magical realism, and local legend. ... Walton's novel builds to a brutal but triumphant conclusion. It's a story that adults and teenagers can appreciate equally.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Walton’s novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. ... This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved — desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. ... 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.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
This love story by debut YA author Leslye Walton is as rare and perfect as Mona Lisa’s smile.
—Ellen Klein, Hooray for Books! (Alexandria, VA)
It is just as the title suggests, both strange and beautiful, and should be read by every lover of books, regardless of their age.
—Becky Quiroga Curtis, Books & Books (Coral Gables, FL)
This remarkable, magic-laced family history continues and spreads to other members of Ava’s Seattle neighborhood to produce a gauzy narrative of love and loss... [An] intentionally artful tale.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
This magical lyrical story is a beautifully written novel with much to offer readers. ... Exquisite.
—Library Media Connection
[Ava's voice] 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.
The story’s language is gorgeous.
In a sweeping intergenerational story infused with magical realism, debut author Leslye Walton tethers grand themes of love and loss to the earthbound sensibility of Ava Lavender as she recollects one life-altering summer as a teenager. ... Walton presents challenges that most teens will hopefully never face. She writes of love, betrayal, birth, murder, affection and rape—and wraps them in prose so radiant that readers feel carried by Ava's narrative. The heroine's humor and wisdom as she looks back at her life let us know that she is a survivor.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
This. Book. Stole. Our. Hearts. It unfolds like a hauntingly beautiful dream (or is it a gorgeous nightmare?)... Strange and beautiful... violent and gorgeous. You gotta read it. A must-read for fans of beautiful monsters like Miss Peregrine's.
Using detailed imagery and an almost mythical storytelling style, teenage Ava tells the history of four generations of her family. ... [Teens] willing to enter Ava’s world on its own terms will find themselves richly rewarded.
[Ava] navigates through her family’s history—along with her own—with a lyrical prose that maintains a whimsical and traditional fairy tale feel despite the sorrowful themes. ... Overall, I’m both impressed and dazzled by Leslye Walton’s debut. "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" is a novel that has so many layers that it demands your attention. Written with the finesse of a seasoned writer, it’s stunning, magical, strange and, of course, very beautiful.
First-time novelist Leslye Walton has crafted a beautiful, haunting family history that spans generations and continents. The story’s narrator, Ava, is achingly believable. ... “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” is not a typical love story. Walton’s tale, by turns tragic and comic, expects readers to explore the big questions love raises — why do we love the people we love, and why do we hold on to love that hurts?
[This novel] should be remembered for the devastatingly beautiful character of Ava Lavender and how she depicts just what it is to be different.
Foolish love and flight are Ava's family inheritance. Magical realism colors this tale of a girl normal but for the wings with which she was born.
—San Francisco Chronicle
The characters are rich and familiar, and Walton does whimsy with a healthy dose of melancholy and tragedy. The storytelling is completely beautiful... A particularly toothsome and pleasurable read.
—Toronto Globe and Mail
In a swirl of hauntingly realistic prose and magical realism, “Ava Lavender” explores the depths of beauty and terror and the heart’s capacity to rise above.
—Richmond Times Dispatch
"The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" will appeal to both adult and young readers who love magical realism, fantasy, and fairy tales. It is 'magical realism at its best,' noted Tor... Strange and sorrowful, the novel is an uncommon debut — exquisitely written and relayed with sophistication.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton - It’s set in the real world, but it transports you to some other universe. Not at all about travel, this favorite of mine from 2014 is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, charming story. Read if you’re stuck on a family trip to somewhere commonplace and you want to escape to somewhere magical.
—Kindle Daily Post (blog)