My maternal grandmother, Emilienne Adou Solange Roux, fell in love three times before the eve of her nineteenth birthday.
"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 naïve 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."
I was quite surprised by The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, but happily I found it both strange and beautiful, which is sometimes an excellent combination. This novel is definitely not for some because of how weird it can be, but to me it was a delightful yet disturbing blend of historical fiction and magic realism, a genre I love when well done.
Despite how different and how much better it was, I couldn't help thinking of The Kingdom of Little Wounds, another ARC I received from Candlewick, although I didn't finish it. Both seem like they would be easy books to read, but they're not, and both talk quite frankly about sex and death and other mature things. They're definitely aimed at mature young adults. This book wasn't quite as disgusting though, and the narration was endearing and compelling. It strikes me that More Than This is another very disturbing and brutal but brilliant YA book published by Candlewick. They seem to be branching out and trying to bend the limits of the genre, and I've enjoyed two of the three edgier YA novels.
This book is beautiful and wonderful in the way that fairy tales are before they're made into cheerful versions in which things end happily ever after. Through each generation of the Roux-Lavender family, there is blood and death and pain and love that doesn't work out so well. The combination of heartbreak and joy is what makes this book so magical and memorable.
The Crane Wife is another new book I've read recently that deals with loss and grief and healing. It also happens to use birds and feather imagery to explore that. Both books have beautiful writing and memorable turns of phrase, but ultimately I enjoyed this one more. It was more unique, and a wonderful blend of fantasy and realism. There's just enough balance between the two to make the book seem somewhat plausible but also wholly magical.
The historical settings of the novel are quite atmospheric, from Beauregard's "Manhatin" to Seattle, where Ava's grandmother finally settles. It's an epic family saga, really not just Ava's story but that of all the star-crossed relatives who come before her. It's such an all-encompassing book, and I loved how deep it goes into the family. Living in the Pacific Northwest fairly near Seattle, I could definitely understand the pervasiveness of the rain; in fact, the rain and lack of it plays a major, major part in the book, and I could relate to that constant precipitation, and the shock when it disappears. The night when it finally rains again is the brutal, heartbreaking climax of the novel.
Many motifs run throughout the book, making it even more fairy-tale like. There are of course, the wings, which are always quite symbolic of freedom and flight. And since Ava can't fly, lack of freedom. The rain is vital, and the bakery and the baking plays a major role as well.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender had its shocking and heartbreaking moments, but it was totally worth it. And the ending was just beautiful. This is a magical and marvelous novel; I wasn't expecting much, but I was blown away. I would highly recommend this book; although it doesn't come out until late March, it's worth the wait.
302 pages (in the ARC).