Not to be Overlooked
By Sandhya Christine Theodore and Ellen Freeman
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton and Poems for the End of the World by Katie Wismer.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Love and its many varieties, takes centre-stage in this multi-generational story filled with magical realism. Ava Lavender is a girl born with the wings of a bird. In this story she traces her history and the strange but sometimes beautiful events that led up to the most fateful day of her young life, when she was mistaken for an angel.
“To many, I was myth incarnate,” Ava begins her story with a letter to the reader. Within two pages, you are drawn into her life. What follows is a story spanning continents, languages and time. She begins with her great-grandparents, who left France in search of bronze cobblestones in America. She traces the lives of her grandmother, Emilienne, who has an uncanny knack for anticipating the future and her mother, free-spirited Viviane. She introduces a slew of supporting characters, all with idiosyncrasies as strange as the title suggests. Although the narrative occasionally skips around time and space, only halfway through the book do we get into the details of Ava’s life.
Walton is a skilled storyteller; she manages to weave the numerous threads of stories and characters so neatly that the reader is never left confused or overwhelmed. Her prose is light and whimsical. The book includes a brilliant collection of characters. Even the ones who appear for no more than two pages are detailed and perfectly integrated into the story.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a story of love, lust, resilience and coming-of-age. Walton manages to evoke all kinds of emotions without obviously trying to be profound. I felt attached to Walton’s words, places and people. Today, over four years since I first read the book, it still remains one of my favourites. I would recommend looking up the trigger warnings before picking it up.
Poems for the End of the World by Katie Wismer
Katie Wismer is a freelance editor and the indie author of contemporary and fantasy novels, including The Marionettes and Wicked Souls. Her debut poetry collection Poems for the End of the World explores themes of coming-of-age, mental and physical health and the confusing journey of navigating young adulthood.
This collection features contemporary poetry covering a range of topics. It is separated into four chapters: “waking up”, “growing pains”, “crushing realities” and “disappointing beginnings.” Something I look for in contemporary poetry is a variety in the subject matter. This book covers some of the ‘typical’ topics for poetry such as love and heartbreak, but also covers something which I have not personally come across in a poetry collection before: the art of dealing with a chronic illness diagnosis.
will never be able
and each day
I reteach myself
not to be angry
This was perhaps my favourite poem of the collection. It demonstrates the pain that chronically ill people can feel when considering the way that ‘healthy’ people look at us and how they will never be able to understand what it is like to live with a chronic illness. The way it is woven into the rest of the collection means that the impact is subtle, but emotional.
This collection discusses some really important and emotional topics, but it does so in a very accessible way. It doesn’t rely on graphic descriptions of difficult situations and Wismer is able to convey her emotions in very concise pieces. I really appreciate that these topics are handled with such care, as many of the poetry collections I have read in the past have felt far more intense and overwhelming. Wismer takes topics which could feel heavy and intense and presents them in a subtle and gentle manner.
The beauty of poetry is finding something which you can connect with emotionally. I think the discussion of chronic illness and the difficulties that come with being chronically ill was really interesting and something which will mean a lot to readers who can see themselves in these poems. Wismer creates a safe space within her collection, to approach these topics with care, but in a way which still presents them as raw and straight-to-the-point.
I think that this poetry collection would be ideally suited to young adults, who perhaps are currently struggling with some of these more universal situations. It is, however, also accessible for more mature readers and I think this is a credit to Wismer’s ability to handle multiple subjects within one collection so effortlessly.
Overall, this poetry collection is unique, accessible and concise. If you are looking for a collection which is emotional, reflective and inspiring, but does not leave you feeling overwhelmed, Poems For the End of the World might be the perfect read for you.