sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 17, 2012

into the stacks: liesl & po
posted by soe 11:15 am

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

From the jacket: “Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice — until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone. That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery…. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.”

My take: A charmingly well-told tale of a little orphan girl who has been locked in the attic by her evil stepmother. Visited suddenly one night by two ghosts — a child, Po, and its companion cat/dog named Bundle — Liesl exchanges a drawing for Po’s seeking out her recently deceased father on the Other Side. When it (Po is genderless, for such things are unimportant on the Other Side) returns with a message, Liesl must make the decision to escape the safety of the known misery that is her attic room and voyage forth into a dark and dreary world (the sun hasn’t shone for nearly five years) to complete her father’s last wish.

Will, lonely apprentice to the city alchemist, is often sent out on late-night errands by his master. While out, he makes a point to stop outside Liesl’s window to watch her draw, feeling in some way that she might be as lonely as he is. When his pause outside her house one night causes Will to reorganize his errands to the mortician and city’s Lady Premiere, he sets in motion a chain of events that will change all of their lives forever.

This middle grade fantasy novel was a joy to read from start to end. Death is anything but friendless here. I love that Po is gender neutral and that Bundle is species neutral. I love that ghosts are grumpy about the reputation they have in the human world for hauntings, and that Po is quick to learn manners, but then cannot understand when Liesl thoughtlessly abandons them. The language cavorts past your eyes, turning little somersaults just for the pleasure of being used:

“The boy seemed to drag, inch, ooze along like a giant slug.” (52)


“[Liesl] repeated the word ineffable clearly, three times in her head, lingering over the gentle slope of the double fs, like the soft peaks of the whipped cream she remembered from her early childhood, and this made her feel slightly better.” (44)

If there is one flaw to the book, and it is a minor one in my opinion, we don’t fully understand (although neither does it) what causes Po to show up in the first place. It just appears all of a sudden and demands to know why Liesl has given up her art.

Highly recommended for everyone. Particularly appropriate for middle grade readers, particularly those who might not be ready for some of the darker regions that fantasy novels aimed a few years older start moving toward. An ideal read for those who will be ready in a few years for The Graveyard Book or The Book Thief.

Pages: 307

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