review

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is that it was not at all what I was expecting. After having read the blurb, I decided I had signed up for a romantic YA romp into the life of a girl born with wings. Instead I was treated to a fairy tale-esque family saga, chronicling several generations of an enchanted family cursed with tragedy. And it was brilliant.

Since The Thorn Birds is the only proper family saga I have read, I was constantly reminded of it throughout. Not just for the fact that both books happen to share a common genre – and, therefore, similar tropes – but the tell-not-show writing style was quite reminiscent of Colleen McCollough. Usually this kind of writing style infuriates me, but it seems in the case of family sagas it seems to work perfectly. We’ve got a family history spanning several decades to cover in a finite number of pages; the story is set up to be “recounted” as it were, and with that expectation in place I feel it can be allowed the title of Exception to the Show-not-Tell Rule.

The plot advertised on the blurb didn’t even show its face until halfway through the book; but that ended up being besides the point. The story lies as much in the family’s backstory as it does in Ava Lavender, and to be honest it’s the part I enjoyed the most. The lives of each generation of the Lavender family is beautifully portrayed and so well built I really felt connected with their homes, their neighbourhoods. I connected most to Emilienne, who ended up being my favourite character, and felt her heartaches so strongly and I can’t even figure out why. I just put it down to some excellent writing; lyrical and practiced, but still an easy read and not at all heavy on the kind of shit that annoys me like the overuse of adjectives, shitty metaphors, and fucking purple prose.

And as for the fantasy element? Fantastically done, in my view. I liked the fact that the magical moments were few and far between. Strangely, I like the fact that we are not told why these magical occurences are prone to happen, and that the characters do not tend to question them. It should piss me off, but it didn’t. It just reminded me of a fairy tale; the kind of story where a heartbroken teenager can choose to turn into a canary just to make her miserable life less complicated.

It is, in essence, a story about a family. A family that just happens to be a little bit magical. The story is intended to explore the different sides and angles of love, precisely by not writing about love; just writing about life, and the love that we can find in between.

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