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. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.
According to the author’s bio, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was inspired by “a particularly long sulk in a particularly cold rainstorm spent pondering the logic, or rather, lack thereof, in love – the ways we coax ourselves to love, to continue loving, to leave love behind.”
It could have been an unadulterated disaster. Miraculously, it wasn’t.
I find that when people expressly seek to explore love, they pulverize everything that is so captivating about it. Very cleverly, Leslye Walton writes her gorgeous treatise on love by not writing about love. In the same way you do not find love in real life by looking for it, you do not find love in a story by looking for it. Instead Walton writes about the generations of a special family and the magical Seattle neighborhood they occupy. And of course, there is love—all sorts of love—there. But it is an organic and true form of love. The type of love that leads to smiles but also to blood and tears.
It’s exquisitely written. Walton’s magical realism is incredible: just wacky enough that you tilt your head when someone turns into a bird but never so crazy that you feel thrown from the story. She packs the story with enduringly beautiful images—a white Communion dress stained with cherries and mud, a wooden countertop gleaming with patisseries, a heart hacked away because of a child with blue-green eyes.
It’s just stunning. And it contains more truth about love, more hard, real facts about love than any contemporary, hyperrealistic literary novel. In this tragical and hopeful family saga, we learn that love cannot be pinned down. It is nowhere and it is everywhere and that is magical.