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

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Candlewick, $17.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 0763665665, March 2014

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.

Bizarrely gorgeous and gorgeously bizarre, this slim but dense family history may have difficulty finding wide readership but will delight readers looking for the unconventional or thought-provoking. While reading it, I often felt that labeling it YA may be a mistake as it reads more like adult mainstream literary fiction, at times reminiscent of the sublime Como Agua Para Chocolate. Although the blurb gives the impression that the book is all about Ava, she doesn’t play a prominent part until nearly halfway through the book. The extensive lead-in to her story details the ways in which the preceding females in her family are brought low by love. This section contains almost no dialogue and can become a bit of a struggle because of it, but readers who persevere will indeed find a melancholy beauty in Ava’s tragic but ultimately optimistic story.

Adults and mature teens will make the best audience for this book. Not only is it challenging, sex and rape play prominent parts in the narrative. In fact, readers may wonder just which sorrows are supposed to be beautiful here. Many of the female characters base their personal happiness on a man’s love or disinterest, which may make some sense in a book that explores the ways in which love destroys or saves us, but still doesn’t make the greatest model.

Recommend to: Adults who love generational woman-centric tales, mature teens who love reading

To buy or not to buy: If you think you have the readership for a lovely, sad story from an author who focuses heavily on the poetry of language, buy it. Or possibly alert your adult services counterpart to a possible crossover.

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