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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender coverThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton
Candlewick Press, March 2014
Reviewed from ARC

Here’s some magic realism by way of fairy tales with writing that’s often achingly beautiful. Some books engage your intellect and others grab your heart; some books, however, immerse you in a sensory experience. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is this third kind of book. In a densely packed narrative that spans generations, Leslye Walton writes about love, obsession, regret, innocence, identity, freedom, and a lot more, aided by descriptive writing that emphasizes the five senses.

Touch, taste, sound, and smell are utilized quite frequently. Ava’s mother, Viviane, has keen olfactory powers with the ability to smell love, sadness, and happiness. Both Ava and Viviane experience touch in vivid descriptions, and taste and sound are often used to help place the reader in a character’s perspective. Some of Walton’s sensory descriptions are so lyrical, they’ve stayed with me more than any other aspects of the novel; a person able to smell fear is so disturbing and beautiful, it’s not easily forgotten. It’s these powerful sensory descriptions that give the book a feeling that’s compelling and slightly mysterious. There’s a sequence where Viviane becomes increasingly dirty because she’s in a deep depression, and as a result, isn’t bathing. And while I couldn’t tell you the exact phrasing of the sentences (at least, not without consulting the text), I can recall the bleak feeling and the dark place that character went to because I can remember the way Walton describes her filthy dress and her sticky hands.

The dialogue and character development aren’t as strong. There are long stretches of narrative with little to no dialogue at all. Stylistically, this works nicely with the dream-like quality of the story; however, when they do talk, characters don’t speak like actual people. Their words are stiff and no one really has any individuality to their voice. Walton occasionally over-writes when she has her characters describe or state a situation that’s evident, as when one character wonders, “why would [Ava] have wings if she wasn’t meant to fly?”

Voice in general is an interesting aspect of Ava Lavender because it’s technically written in first person—a prologue presents the novel as an adult Ava’s attempt to make sense of her personal and family history—but the novel’s functionally third-person omniscient because Ava’s not really a character until after the first third of the book. Even after that point, her character is quite passive, leaving a lot of room to be in the head space of other characters.

At first, it’s a little jarring to discover that Ava Lavender is not really the main character in this book; in fact, Ava, Viviane, and Emilienne (Ava’s grandmother) each carry the story and demonstrate the dual nature of love. All three are victims of love, both directly and indirectly, but Ava is able to transcend that duality, literally flying above it. Although not always cleanly executed, and sometimes conveying problematic ideas, Walton is clearly attempting to explore love, among other themes, leaving readers with a lot to chew on.

While it has some significant issues, none are large enough to make this a novel we can ignore. It’s certainly a strong contender for the Morris, but we’re not called “Someday My Printz Will Come” for nothing. There’s enough going on with Walton’s use of language, the strong themes woven throughout (heck, the story practically runs on its themes), and the careful plotting to inspire rich discussion and debate.

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About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.

Comments

  1. Mary Lou White says:

    I really loved this book – some of the finest magical realism I have read. My regret is that the book was not significantly longer. I wanted a full development of each generation. The stories of tragic love were so beautifully rendered, I wanted more! The aspect that was troubling for me was the brutality near the end. I do not want to drop spoilers here, but the book is full of violence and sorrow, all told in a style that never feels heavy or too burdensome for the reader – until the end. The sequence is so brutal and awful, I was not prepared for such a shock. It felt jarring given the tone of the rest of the book. I agree – strong contender for both Morris and Printz.

    • Joy Piedmont says:

      That ending! It was really brutal, but it seemed appropriately jarring. The shift in tone matches how much that incident breaks into Ava’s life. I’m not sure that I’ve fully parsed through how it serves Ava’s ultimate development–she’s far too passive a character for my taste, but I don’t think she’s poorly crafted (if that makes any sense).

  2. This, alas, did not work for me on any level — the magical realism felt like a warmed-over rehash of better magical realism books I’ve read in the past, it felt overwritten, and there was a overall twee-tragedy vibe that culminated in that brutal ending.

  3. I’m about 1/2 way through this, and I admire the language and the sentences, the setting and magical realism — enough that if I were on committee I could honestly see myself being persuaded by what is so strong about the book.

    On a personal level, though, this isn’t doing it for me — again, halfway through and I just want to channel Cher from Moonstruck with a “snap out of it” to Ava’s mother and grandmother. Though I’d argue that this may be why it’s YA (a point I’ve seen debated elsewhere) — a teen may indeed believe that what happened to them is enough to freeze your life and love etc. so be more accepting.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Candlewick) author Lesley Walton related that when she first heard about the Morris finalists announcements via Twitter, her first reaction was to add all of the titles to her to-read pile—and only after did she realize her own work was included in the finalist selections. She discussed her gratitude for the recognition of a darker and harsher work, and if she’d thought of it as a work aimed at teenagers, she might have given in to the desire to protect her readers rather than expose them to cruelty. She acknowledged how vital libraries are in connecting readers with what they need and hopes her novel “makes someone feel less alone and more alive.” She finished by expressing her thanks to librarians simply, “Whether you know it or not, you are saving the lives of readers everywhere.” […]

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