Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Walton)

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender 
Leslye Walton, 2014
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780763665661

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

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 naive 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Tacoma, Washington, USA
Education—M.F.A., Portland State University
Currently—lives in Seattle, Washington

Leslye Walton was born in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps because of this, she has developed a strange kinship with the daffodil. She too can only achieve beauty after a long, cold sulk in the rain. Her novel, The Strange and Beautiful Live of Ava Lavender, was inspired by a particularly long sulk in a particularly cold rainstorm.

Leslye Walton currently lives in Seattle, Washington where she spends most of her time in her own world—which, for the record, is far better than the real one anyway—with her fittingly-named Chihuahua, Mr. Darcy and her spirit guide, a cat named Griff.

When she's not writing, she teaches middle school students how to read and write, and most importantly, how to be kind to each other, even when they really don't feel like it.

About Leslye's Work
Leslye works best under the light of the moon, and will often wake her friends in the middle of the night to ask if they know another word for vivacious or if they remember what the guy sitting behind them at dinner last Tuesday ordered for dessert. Fortunately, Leslye has very forgiving friends.


  • When Leslye was younger, she wanted to be a singer, a writer, a teacher, or a mermaid, in that order. Hey, three outta four ain't bad!

  • Oh yeah. Leslye also sings (see above), though these days it's primarily in the shower, or the car or when she can convince talented students to accompany her on the guitar.

  • She has a pair of wings tattooed on her left wrist that she got when she learned The Strange and Beautiful Live of Ava Lavender was going to be an actual book. She plans on memorializing each book with a tattoo. So far she has six tattoos…and one published book. Oops. Looks like she has some catching up to do! (From the publisher and author's website.)

Book Reviews
[This novel] should be remembered for the devastatingly beautiful character of Ava Lavender and how she depicts just what it is to be different.
Guardian (UK)

(Starred review.) Walton debuts with an entrancing and sumptuously written multigenerational novel wrapped in the language of fable, magical realism, and local legend. Ostensibly about a 16-year-old born with wings, the novel is also a rich retelling of Ava Lavender's family history.... It's a story that adults and teenagers can appreciate equally, one...less about love than about the way love can be thwarted and denied (Ages 14–up).
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Walton’s novel is both strange and beautiful in the best of ways. ... This multigenerational tale examines love and considers the conflicting facets of loving and being loved — desire, despair, depression, obsession, self-love, and courage. ... It is beautifully crafted and paced, mystical yet grounded by universal themes and sympathetic characters. A unique book, highly recommended for readers looking for something a step away from ordinary. —Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ
School Library Journal

(Starred review.) In a sweeping intergenerational story infused with magical realism, debut author Leslye Walton tethers grand themes of love and loss to the earthbound sensibility of Ava Lavender as she recollects one life-altering summer as a teenager.... Walton presents challenges that most teens will hopefully never face. She writes of love, betrayal, birth, murder, affection and rape—and wraps them in prose so radiant that readers feel carried by Ava's narrative. The heroine's humor and wisdom as she looks back at her life let us know that she is a survivor.
Shelf Awareness

[Ava's voice] is a beautiful voice—poetic, witty, and as honest as family mythology will allow. There are many sorrows in Walton’s debut, and most of them are Ava’s through inheritance. Readers should prepare themselves for a tale where myth and reality, lust and love, the corporal and the ghostly, are interchangeable and surprising.

The story's language is gorgeous.... Disturbingly, a horrific assault acts as the vehicle of redemption, magically bringing people together for reasons that make sense only in the dreamlike metaphysics of literary device. Gorgeous prose for readers willing to be blindsided (16 & up).
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The three Lavender women, Emilienne, Viviane, and Ava, all face tragedy in their lives. Discuss how each woman responds to these events. What does this say about them? Do you think the responses are fitting for the characters?

2. This novel provides a cast of many memorable characters, most of whom have strong personalities, as well as unusual names. What do the supporting characters—Cardigan Cooper, Wilhelmina Dovewolf, Marigold Pie, Rene Roux, Gabe—bring to the story? What role do they play, both for the main characters and in the plot?

3. Would the people of Pinnacle Lane have accepted Ava had she not been attacked, or was the horror of what happened to her necessary for them to accept her? In other words, is empathy necessary for acceptance?

4. Wilhelmina says, Just because love don’t look the way you think it should, don’t mean you don’t have it (page 243). How does Emilienne interpret this? Do you agree with Wilhelmina?

5. Do you think what happened to Nathaniel at the end was justified? Would you have preferred a more traditional, or perhaps less obtuse, form of punishment?

6. The ending has caused much debate among readers. What do you think happened? Did Ava finally allow herself to fly, or did she succumb to those dark thoughts in the end?

7. Discuss two of the themes in the novel. How do they interact and build upon each other throughout the novel?

8. The novel begins with Emilienne’s story and continues to Viviane’s before leading into Ava’s. What do you think about this format? How does this structure contribute to the reader’s experience, as well as impact the overall plot?

9. The novel is set in a fictitious neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. How does the main setting contribute to the mood of the story? What role does the setting play in the plot?

10. Discuss the use of language throughout the story. What does the French vocabulary add to the story?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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