Lauren Oliver – Liesl & Po
147. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (2011)
Read By: Jim Dale
Length: 5h 55m (320 pages)
Genre: Mid-grade Fantasy
Started: 09 November 2011
Finished: 12 November 2011
Where did it come from? From Harper Audio for review.
Why do I have it? I enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s previous book, and thought the summary sounded interesting.
A ghost can walk through
walls, but Liesl must escape
in some other way.
Summary: Liesl is a recent orphan, kept locked in an attic room by her stepmother ever since the death of her father. But one day she discovers she’s not alone up there; a ghost named Po appears, attracted to Liesl from the Other Side by her drawings. Unbeknownst to her, Liesl also has another admirer: Will, another orphan and assistant to the alchemist, has seen her through her attic window and longs to meet her. When there’s a mix-up involving one of Will’s deliveries, a box containing the most powerful magic in the world, and the box containing the ashes of Liesl’s father, suddenly both children find themselves on the run… but what can two orphans and one ghost do on their own in a large, unfriendly world?
Review: Liesl & Po is an odd little book, but odd in the best possible way. Primarily, it’s got a plot and a central theme that I don’t think I’ve ever come across in mid-grade fiction before, and only very rarely in fiction in general. It’s certainly very different from Delirium, the other of Oliver’s books that I’ve read, not only in story but also in tone. It’s got the plucky orphans that are seemingly ubiquitous in children’s fiction, but unlike most other books geared towards this age level, it deals with the death of a parent pretty directly, and takes on the question of the afterlife. I really appreciated the way that Oliver handles such a potentially troublesome topic; the tone of the story is sensitive to the magnitude of such a loss, while remaining level-headed and avoiding melodrama, and (most importantly) not talking down to its audience.
I did find the worldbuilding to be a little strange. Primarily, I had a hard time getting a handle on when and where the story was taking place. Was it an alternate Britain? America? Some fictional country? What approximate era? Some textual clues seemed to point in one direction, some in another, and while it’s not critical to understanding or enjoying the story, it did make me feel occasionally off-balance. (There may be more clues – or even a map – in the printed version; I listened to the audio, which was read flawlessly by Jim Dale*). There were also some details of the world that wound up being very important to the story but weren’t revealed until fairly late in the game. I can understand not wanting to do a big worldbuilding infodump right at the beginning, but the way it was handled had a slight feeling of afterthought to me, like “Oh, by the way, they’ve been eating nothing but potatoes this whole time.” But in general, I found the setting of the story less important than the interesting characters and subtly sweet, sad, and unique plot, and overall the book was definitely an enjoyable read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I think kids (and adults) who liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will find Liesl & Po to have a similar sensibility and sense of humor. More generally, it should appeal to readers of all ages who are looking for a non-traditional fantasy/ghost story.
* Except I’m so used to hearing Jim Dale read the Harry Potter books that when Liesl & Po contained a mention of a “transfiguration potion”, there was a brief moment of “What the hell, those are two different classes!?!” cognitive dissonance. Whoops!
Other Reviews: A Backwards Story, Presenting Lenore, Proud Book Nerd, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, Waking Brain Cells, Words on Paper
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.
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