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.
Tell Me More: Here is a story of unbearable pain and regret, told in musical prose and by a character whose sadness is hazy but still visible in every sentence. Ava Lavender and her tragic, luminous family are some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and Leslye Walton tells their stories in short bursts, letting their strength carry the words forward.
Sorrows is not an easy book to read. The narrative follows a rough timeline, and Ava begins with the story of her great-great grandmother, with the reader trusting that this history will contribute to Ava’s own tale. Other than that, it meanders, taking breaks every now and then to share a tidbit, visit an old friend, ponder the meaning of past events. Readers who want a clear-cut story with obvious conflicts and villains won’t find that here, or at least not for a good long while.
In addition, Sorrows is a magic realism novel, with girls turning into canaries and ghosts silently watching their siblings live. Unlike a lot of speculative fiction, there’s no obvious logic to the magic in Sorrows. Ava, like her aunts and uncles before her, deals with her inexplicable wings with the help of her family, and they keep her sane. Walton’s writing style complements the tone of the story beautifully–she has a gift for picking the right word to make her sentences sing, and they will haunt you. I particularly admired how Walton handles Emilienne’s story, as it stretches from her arrival in Manhatine (as her father calls it) to the warping of her family’s quiet existence. Readers need an anchor, and while the story is told through Ava’s eyes, it is Emilienne who grounds it in her tragedy and strength.
Female characters outnumber males in Sorrows, and while the story doesn’t quite make a statement about feminism, it does make a statement about abuses committed in the name of love, highlighting the way women are used, discarded and forgotten by men. Emilienne and Viviane give their hearts to men, trusting in that love, and they are treated cruelly, rejected because of their eagerness to love. Ava is more cautious, and suffers for it anyway. There are reminders of the original “The Little Mermaid”: both stories are about girls who try to go after their dreams and are punished for wanting more than what they have. Emilienne, Viviane and Ava face men who are used to getting what they want, and they all recognize that entitlement too late to save themselves in the moment that it hurts them. But they don’t lose themselves in the end. More than determination, I think that Sorrows reminds its readers that having the will to survive can carry you through the worst moments of your life. And maybe it’s too hard to muster up that will in your darkest times, and that is when you let someone else carry you for a while.
The Final Say: Leslye Walton is an astonishing new voice in YA fiction, much like her unforgettable Ava Lavender. Her Strange and Beautiful Sorrows will stay with you past the last page.
Leslye Walton was born in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps because of this, Leslye has developed a strange kinship with the daffodil–she too can only achieve beauty after a long, cold sulk in the rain. Her debut novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, was inspired by a particularly long sulk in a particularly cold rainstorm spent pondering the logic, or rather, lack thereof, in love.
Leslye has an MA in writing and lives in Seattle, Washington. 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 on days when they really don’t feel like it.