by Leslye Walton
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Breathtaking, mesmerizing and stunning, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a brilliant debut! The prose dazzles off the pages and reads like a lyrical musical score. It's as if Leslye Walton was able to sprinkle fairy dust throughout the pages. This book makes my top four books of all times joining literary tour de force novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shadow of the Wind and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
Twins Ava and Henry Lavender are born into a family of strong women who sadly make terrible and often tragic mistakes in love. Maman, the matriarch of the family line, comes from France to make her home and fortune in a new land. Arriving in Manhattan, she is disappointed to find crowded and dirty tenements. This is certainly not her American dream. She finally is able to move the family to the Northwest. Maman loses her husband and sisters, but they continue to follow her dogged steps as ghosts. Her daughter Emilienne gives birth to baby Viviane and loses her husband shortly after. Because the town's people think she is a witch, she is unable to make a living at the bakery her husband cherished. Until a Native American woman named Wilhelmina shows up, that is. Wilhelmina sees herself in Emilienne. She says, "Death just seems to follow some of us, doesn't it?...It's easy to spot your own kind. That kind of sorrow you can't just wash away; it sticks to you." She shows Emilienne how to perform a cleansing ceremony at the bakery and promises that business will explode. The next day, the bakery sells out.
Baby Viviane grows up and becomes friends with Jack, her first and only love. It is Jack who moves the plot along throughout Viviane's life. She is heartbroken when he leaves for college and returns married to another woman. Viviane births twins Ava and Henry. Both children are fiercely loved by their mother and Wilhelmina. They are sheltered at home and rarely leave the property. Henry develops late and is a strange child, avoiding people and speech. Ava has an even stranger trait that will prove her undoing.
Viviane is blessed with certain gifts. Her sense of smell is amazing. She can tell when a woman was pregnant or how a person was feeling just by her scent. "Happiness had a pungent scent, like the sourest lime or lemon. Broken hearts smelled surprisingly sweet. Sadness filled the air with a salty, sea-like redolence; death smelled like sadness." She also knows when rain is on the way or when one of her children is in danger.
The bakery is perhaps the most important place in the book. It is where Emilienne is able to work and feed her family. It is where Viviane grows up. It is where the town people go for sustenance. Emilienne's pastries are magical. The wedding cake of Ignatius Lux and Estelle Margolis was so delectable that, "After this wedding unmarried women woke in the night with tears in their eyes, not because they were alone, but because there wasn't any cake left."
Sorrow follows each generation of the Roux family. The females seem destined or cursed to choose the wrong man and the wrong man always shows up. My favorite quote of the entire book comes from wise Wilhelmina, "Just because love don't look the way you think it should don't mean you don't have it." In other words, love comes from your work, your friends, your world, and does not have to involve a couple. Love can be found in other things.
This is one book I absolutely will read more than once, just to savor its flavor. In one sitting, you simply cannot take in everything: the story, the sadness, the fantasy, the painted masterpiece of magic which soars off the page. The story builds to a cacophonous crescendo that you won't easily forget. This is the stuff dreams are made of.
I will not forget Ava Lavender and her strange and beautiful sorrows any time soon. It's a story that I continue to think about.
This novel gets the HIGHEST recommendation I could ever give a book. I simply LOVE it. Do yourself a favor, get this book today.
Suitable grade 9-up. Some mature content. Pre-marital sex.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.
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