Kerry Winfrey
November 01, 2014 9:00 am

I’m always checking out new YA books to feature in Young Adult Education, and I love to receive reader recommendations. I am but one (unhealthily) YA-obsessed lady, and I can’t keep up on every YA release. I need your help! That’s why I was super happy when HelloGiggles reader Emma emailed me to recommend Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. She described it as “lovely and weird and sad” and “extremely creepy.” Emma, you’re speaking my language.

Ava Lavender isn’t like other kids, and not just because she has a twin brother who rarely speaks, or because her mother doesn’t like to leave the house, or because she lives in a house that’s supposedly haunted (although all of those things are true). She’s different because she was born with wings sprouting out of her back. Ava carries the very visible reminders of her uniqueness everywhere, but what she really wants is to hide her wings away and fit in. That’s hard to do when her mother likes to keep her locked up in the house, but eventually, Ava ventures into the outside world. But can she trust everyone she sees, or does someone have a dark obsession with her?

Although Ava Lavender’s name is in the title and she narrates the book, it’s definitely not all about her. Instead, the book tells the story of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, all of whom face their own share of despair and heartbreak. Just like Emma promised me, the book does get pretty creepy (there’s one scene near the end that’s honestly pretty terrifying and graphic), but it’s also romantic, hopeful, sad, and above all cautionary. There are many messages to get out of this book, but I saw it as a warning about what love can do to a person. If you let yourself get too wrapped up in someone or if you ignore the true feelings in your heart completely, the consequences can be tragic. As the book says, loves makes us such fools.

In many ways, Ava Lavender reminded me of two other books I’ve read and loved in Young Adult Education: Imaginary Girls and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. All of the books fit under the umbrella of magical realism, which means that they take place in a realistic world that’s mostly like ours, but where girls can have wings and women can turn into piles of dust. Which is to say, an awesome world. The book feels dreamy and magical even when terrible things are happening, and at times it sort of feels like reading a fairy tale.

Sometimes people ask me what exactly constitutes a YA book, and I always tell them something really intelligent like, “Um. . . I don’t know?” Generally, a YA book involves teenage characters and is aimed at a teenage audience, but it’s still a pretty vague designation. Ava Lavender is one of those books that really straddles the line between YA and adult fiction (please know that by adult fiction I just mean fiction for adults, not erotica. . . I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about this book). Although the book does deal with Ava’s coming-of-age, it also deals with the lives (and deaths) of her many family members and neighbors. There are many adult concerns in the book that aren’t typically featured in YA books. Ava Lavender proves that genre doesn’t really matter all that much; whether we read YA or not, all of us are just looking for a good book.

What about you guys? Have you read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, send me an email at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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