Title: The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Publisher: Walker Books
The plot is exhibitionist in that it’s like flipping through the pages of a furniture catalogue and reading the descriptions of those hardwood coffee tables that you may or may not want. It’s just that exciting. The plot is supposed to be about a sixteen-year-old girl who is born with wings and confined to the house to protect her from those that might mock or harass – or even hurt – her. Half of the book recounts the family history – right back to Ava’s grandparents – and while interesting, a lot of it could be cut (seriously, it takes up half of the book and after the first one hundred pages, you start to wonder if you’re reading the book that was advertised on the cover jacket. It doesn’t follow the three-act structure and while this is not essential, I feel that this is one of those occasions where it could really benefit from it.
I understand that this book incorporates elements of romance and magic realism but it’s really boring. There’s not enough in there to make me want to read on (though I did and it was like reading the Oxford English Dictionary). You don’t need sharks with laser beams attached to their heads to get my attention but you need something to hook me and obstacles in the story to keep me reading (be it a betrayal, a forbidden romance etc.). There are also a lot of plot holes. The harpsichord is unused for so many years, and I’m no music expert, but somehow it’s in tune after all that time when it’s finally played and it doesn’t feel plausible.
Have you ever had a friend tell you about a strange or odd experience they’ve had and, while it’s interesting, you’re not feeling it as much as they are because they experienced it? The narration is kind of along those lines. The history of her family intrigues me but the narration is all over the place so that I feel like I’m watching the scenes through a telescope. The story is first-person – told by Ava. Somehow, she seems to know everything about her family including things that she could never possibly know such as the night she was conceived. The narration jumps between first-person and omniscient third-person and while demonstrating all of the limitations of both, shows none of the advantages. I felt distanced from Ava and the intimacy of her narration that we get in the last fifty pages is lost in the rest of the book.
The character cast was weak at best. I can understand why Ava is a bit bland having been boxed up in her house for so long but what’s the excuse for the other characters? Cardigan is the breakout. The rest aren’t strong enough characters to make me empathise with their struggles. They possess distinguishing features but lack the substance that allows the reader to really feel for them.
Quality of Writing:
The writing is beautiful in places but, for the most part, it’s drawn-out. The events are very much told instead of shown. The first half of the novel, in particular, is like reading a journal of your mother’s life – a second-hand account that lacks the intimacy that the reader needs. And more than once, the writing becomes a little clunky.
I had no major issue with the setting. I would have liked if Walton had sliced information into the scene to keep us in the moment rather than overloading us with scene-setting chunks of text though.
It adds nothing special to the genre. The synopsis shows promise but the book itself centres around Ava’s grandmother and her mother. There’s so much potential with this story and I really wanted to enjoy it but there’s no denying that the narration and characters are weak and that it’s a tough read. Comparing it to other books that show characters suffering and dealing with loss like Sally Green’s Half Bad, she manages to capture her protagonist’s torture and pain perfectly. She adds something different to the genre in that she adopts a second-person narrative style along with first-person and creates a world. Walton doesn’t achieve anything like this.
NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…
- A beautiful story but a weak plot
- A confusing narrative structure
- Misleading in that it tells us more about Ava’s grandmother than Ava herself
- On the bright side, a really amazing cover
Books You May Also Like:
Half-Bad by Sally Green – if you want to read more about (real) sorrow and pain (and the mental and emotional trauma’s that Nathan – the protagonist – is subjected to) and how his being different gradually ostracizes him from his community