Hello, all. Emily here. I’ve been reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio recently and it made me think of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. I felt as though Ava and August – the protagonist of Wonder – are literary companions, both giving us a new perspective on the world around us. Both books consider what it is to be “normal” or “ordinary” with great compassion, sensitivity and poignancy. They encourage us to reflect on our own behaviour and treatment of others. And they remind us of how insignificant appearance is compared to character and soul.
In Wonder, August has a facial abnormality which constantly draws unwanted attention. Auggie sees himself as ordinary – he feels ordinary – but no one else seems to share this view. His dad worries that Auggie starting school will be like sending “a lamb to the slaughter”. The way that many of the students react to Auggie makes him more aware of his appearance than ever. But school also brings Auggie a lot of happiness. It’s his chance to hang out with people his own age and do normal things. Why should he hide away? On the inside, he’s just like all the other kids his age.
Ava Lavender was born with wings, and in a bid to protect her from the world, Ava’s mother has kept her at home for the first fifteen years of her life. Ava longs to be able to go to school and spend time with her peers, and begins sneaking out of the house in the evenings to meet her friends. She knows that deep down she is just a normal girl, but there are others who see her as a mythical creature. And it is this delusion that brings tragedy to Ava’s life.
Although the settings of these two stories are quite different – Wonder is a contemporary novel set in New York City, while The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a generational story which shifts from France to Seattle – they both remind us that difference is beautiful and not something to fear. Moreover, they show us that sometimes trying to protect those we love can cause them greater pain.
These superb books are not only a masterclass in storytelling, they are also a vital lesson in treating people equally and really seeing the person by looking beyond just appearance.