The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is the debut novel from Leslye Walton and was published in 2014.
The members of the Roux family have a complicated relationship with love. Emilienne Roux, the matriarch, grew up with two sisters, a brother and a mother, all destroyed by love. Pierrette Roux, the youngest, transforms into a canary when her love is unreturned by an older gentlemen. Margaux Roux, the middle, falls in love with the same man as Emilienne and gives birth to a child, only to cut her own heart out when the father leaves her. René Roux, their only brother, is shot by his male lover when his wife finds him out and Maman Roux, their mother, slowly disappears when her husband dies. She is so insubstantial without the love of her life, that she simply ceases to exist.
With a sister who turns into a bird and a mother who blows away on the wind, Emilienne is, of course, quite special as is her only daughter, Viviane Lavender. Viviane falls deeply in love with her neighbor and best friend Jack Griffith. Jack’s father is none too pleased that his son is involved with the daughter of the town “witch” and when Jack goes off to college, Viviane receives letters daily….and then weekly….and then not at all. When Jack comes back from college to attend the town’s summer solstice events, he brings with him his fiance. And Viviane breaks. In one final act of passion, they say their goodbye. Emilienne is relieved that Jack is gone until the fact that Viviane is pregnant can no longer be ignored. Viviane Lavender gives birth to an extraordinary pair of twins – Ava and Henry. Ava Lavender is in all ways a normal baby girl apart from the pair of delicate wings gracing her back. Henry Lavender is the baby no one knew about hiding as he was behind his sister’s wings.
While Emilienne chose to keep her daughter at arm’s length out of fear of loving her too much, Viviane loves Ava and Henry wholly and completely. Her children are strange, obviously, but her love can give them a safe place to grow, away from a world that would ridicule and abuse them. Viviane keeps Ava and Henry cloistered in their house, high atop a hill, but as a normal-but-for-wings teenage girl, Ava longs to go to school, to go out to the reservoir with the other kids on a Friday night, to have love and a future. Ava feels herself so strongly to be just a normal girl – she cannot fly, she is not a bird and certainly not an angel. She knows this about herself but people want her to be special in a way that she is not, they want her to be more than human. Viviane has only ever wanted to keep Ava safe and where is there that is safer than home?
Nathaniel Sorrows is a strictly devout man. He knows that God works through him and around him. When Nathaniel moves into the house down the hill from the Lavenders he chooses the room that just so happens to look up into Ava’s bedroom. One day, when Nathaniel is walking down the lane, he sees Ava in her yard, and certain that Heaven has sent an angel to him, he becomes obsessed, watching her every night from his window. Ava, for her part, can no longer stand her isolation and enlists the help of her best friends and neighbors Cardigan and Rowe Cooper. Cardigan is everything you want in a best friend – daring, brave, loving, fun. Her older brother, Rowe, has always seen Ava exactly as she wants to be seen, a perfect, normal girl. With Cardigan and Rowe, Ava sneaks out of the house to hang out with other kids and her world expands. Along with her new freedoms though, danger lurks. Nathaniel Sorrows has watched Ava walk with her friends every night and on one particularly stormy night, he is determined to possess his angel.
A YA novel of magical realism, love and tragedy, Ava Lavender is the story of one extraordinary family and all the varied ways that love can ruin us, and make us whole again. It is also a story of being different and how scary that can be. Ava is very visibly different but we all have aspects of ourselves that mark us as “other”; some of us are overweight, some too thin, some suffer from depression, others have family issues. Ava’s story warns us that even though being different may be hard, trying to be someone else, or hiding out from the world, comes with its own complications. The magical elements of the novel are never fully explained but Walton makes it easy to accept that they are just as true as the real-life elements (which I suspect is probably pretty hard to do). I especially enjoyed this novel because it is unlike any YA I’ve read and I think that is important for the genre and audience. Give Ava Lavender a try and then let me know what you think!