*Disclaimer: This book contains a scene of sexually violent nature in which rape occurs. I do not recommend this book to anyone that is not in a place where they can emotionally handle this occurrence. Please consider this detail when deciding whether or not you would like to read this book.*

Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender follows, well Ava Lavender, a girl inexplicably born with wings but, more specifically her ancestry. Walton has taken an almost journalistic approach to her writing as the story begins with Ava’s investigation into why she has developed this abnormal physical trait. Delving back into her past we start with her great-grandfather and great-grandmother; we follow all subsequent generations until we eventually get to Ava.

I won’t go into too much detail about the other characters as Walton describes them best, you get to know each of them very well throughout the book. For not want of spoiling anything, I will hold my tongue, I do not want to ruin the beautiful unravel of detail that this book provides. All you need to know about the characters is that, although there are quite a few, they are all essential. Walton does an excellent job of making each of her characters memorable by giving them a characteristic, storyline, or ability unique to them. This makes following the characters much more comfortable than I usually find it. I always get nervous when I begin to read books with lots of characters; I find that very few authors manage to pull off the balancing act. Walton has put a lot of effort into this book, each of her characters are fully developed and well-rounded. Every character is defined in relation to love and aspirations. What they choose to do with their emotions in relation to their circumstances is an entirely unique experience for each member of every generation.

As a result of the deep dive into Ava’s family history, our main character doesn’t show up physically (she is narrating the whole book) until just over half way through the story. At this point there is a change of pace; the vocabulary gets a bit more informal as it settles down into the more traditional format for a protagonist-narrator. Ava is a charming and witty anomaly throughout her life. She manages to make friends with the neighbour’s kids, and despite being housebound because of how the outside world would receive her, she still manages to escape every now and again. It is fascinating to see how the world reacts and shifts to this girl’s existence. In Ava’s efforts to discover links between her ancestry and her wings, she makes connections that any reaching character would. Walton hints at this cleverly throughout the book with interweaving themes of air and birds with her characters, making us feel like being born with wings was inevitable the whole time. Anything feels reasonable in this story considering all that happens in it, the bizarre and the every day are interwoven in such a concrete way that disbelief just can’t settle on this book.

Walton’s writing style is perfect for this story; she makes use of short, clipped sentences forcing the story to move along in a very matter-of-fact way. Her writing is very systematic and precise; she starts at the beginning and works her way through the whole story. In this way, she has managed to add weight to each of her sentences. Walton uses repetition throughout her book as a clue about what is important. It was an interesting experience to suddenly be pulled back to what I had read before. It allowed me to remember the context and understand a deeper meaning behind what might be happening. Walton manages to intermingle humour and sorrow seamlessly; she allows the reader to feel each emotion that every situation presents but Walton is in control of how long you stay in that place for. She allows you to cry and then pulls you back into the real world. You are forced to go on like her characters are.  

When needing to express emotions of a character that is outside of the family Walton makes use of a journal that the said character wrote in. This form of perspective change allows us to understand where that character is emotionally and what they are up to, without making our narrator unreliable, in fact, this increases the relatability of our narrator because of the concrete facts that she presents via this journal.  Despite there never being a full switch in point of view the author has definite tones when interacting with each of the characters. These different tones and styles allows the reader to keep up with her as she recounts each character’s past or current scenes.

This book was an amazing read, and I loved it. Walton takes on a difficult topic in the themes of love and what causes people to love, and also to refuse to love. Walton in this story strives to explain the complexities of love in relation to the painful process of living. If you choose to pick up this book prepare to laugh and cry… an ugly cry that is. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a book that has quickly nudged itself into my top ten reads of all time. Everything about this book was so well done, from the stunning cover to the themes central to the story. I cannot help but bring up the beautiful and impactful pay offs brought about by intentional repetition. Anyone who is in desperate need of a good book needs to pick this up!

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