otrbristol | 16th March 2020

Blog post: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – by Bryony

Hi and welcome to the OTR Book Club blog!

The OTR Book Club is for anyone aged 16-25. It is a relaxed, safe space that operates using OTR’s core approach. The OTR Book Club is an opportunity for people to get together once a month to connect with each other and discuss books, as well as many other topics, in a safe and inclusive environment. Members put forward book suggestions and then vote on their favourite option. The winning book is then generously provided by Give a Book charity, meaning all members get a free copy!

I’m Bryony and I’ll be taking you on a monthly journey through our choice of novel and what we all thought of it. This week was attended by Nat, Char, Rose and Enya.

The book cover of a novel, ‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ by Leslye Walton.

This month we delved into Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. This is a young adult fantasy novel, focused heavily on the theme of magical realism, which recounts the family history, and early life of Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings.

Warning – spoilers will be in the rest of this post!

We all thought that the book was very engaging throughout and the theme of magical realism was done very well. It was done so carefully that it was almost introduced off-hand. Rose observed that the magic was woven into the story and Nat and Enya added that Walton takes the metaphors she’s using into reality and that she’s taken things that are real and woven magic into them. For example, there was one part when Ava’s great grandmother starts becoming quieter after the disappearance of her husband, but then eventually physically disappears into a pile of ash.

Even though Ava Lavender is mentioned in the title and the narrative is told from her perspective, it seems to be less about her as a centralised character and more of a family unit as a whole. Nat though that all the characters are so thought out they could have their own full back story! And Rose thought that most of the magic that we’ve seen in the story is connected to the family and not the surrounding characters. The story seems to be more about the family than Ava.

Interestingly, Rose commented that she thought that Ava was the least interesting character. This was an observation that most of us agreed with as Ava actually only comes into the book half way through and seemingly the only interesting thing about her was her wings! Everything just seemed to happen around her.

Next we discussed some of our favourite characters. We looked at Henry, Ava’s seemingly unremarkable twin. Char said she thought that he liked to keep things to himself which was definitely true! Throughout, Henry seemed to hold some important secrets and always seemed to know something that the rest of the characters didn’t, but couldn’t communicate what he knew with the rest of his family. It all came together at the climax of the novel when Ava was attacked; all the nonsense that Henry had been spouting made perfect sense. Natalie said that she thought that he was represented well and it was interesting how he was portrayed. We talked about how sometimes children, especially young boys, who are written with social problems are often not portrayed in the best light, but that wasn’t true in this case.

Another one of the characters was talked about was Nathaniel Sorrows, who, as Char observed, was just a bit obsessed with Ava; the idea of her, the thought of her as a celestial being. Natalie said that she thought it was nice that we had some pages from his diary interspersed in the story. We were able to see his character’s progression from a religious and kind man through a slow descent into madness. It was a lot easier to see this from his perspective, as the man we were introduced to in the beginning was so vastly changed from the man who attacked Ava at the end.

One of the things we briefly talked about was the question of why Ava had wings – there seemed to be no real explanation for it. Natalie observed that when Ava’s mother was pregnant with her she expressed wanting to be an air hostess and to fly among the clouds. Maybe this is why Ava was born with wings and the potential to fly?

One of the biggest themes we thought that surrounded this book was the theme of rebirth and coming of age. This became prevalent at the end of the book through Ava. After Nathaniel attacked her and cut off her wings, Ava spent months recuperating and healing. You aren’t sure right up until the very last page if Ava is healed. Then you see that Ava’s wings have not only grown back but they have changed. Before, they were brown and fluffy and at the end they are beautiful and white, reminiscent of the development from a signet to a swan. She then spreads her wings and it is strongly suggested that she actually flies! This is something that has been hinted at throughout the novel, but she never has the confidence or the ability to do it. Once she has been through her traumatic experience, she comes out the other side stronger and you’re really happy for her as a reader.

In the end, we all loved the book and would 100% recommend it!

If you want to join us next time, we meet on the last Monday of every month, at 6pm at Foyles Book shop in Cabot! See you there!