Liesl has been kept in the attic of her house ever since her father grew progressively sick and then died. Her stepmother Augusta hates her and keeps her there, feeding her meager meals and rarely allowing her to leave. Liesl draws to pass the time and does little else. Three days after her father’s death, she receives two unexpected visitors: a ghost named Po, who is neither a boy nor a girl, and his ghostly pet Bundle, who is neither a dog nor a cat. Po agrees to try to find her father on the other side in exchange for a drawing; Po discovers that her father wants to go home and Liesl is the only one who can help him.
Liesl and Po’s journey intertwines with Will’s, an apprentice to a cruel alchemist who accidentally mixes up Liesl’s father’s ashes with the greatest magic ever created. Po and Liesl take this magic and embark on a wonderful and strange journey, with both friends and enemies following them, to take Liesl’s father to his proper resting place.
Lauren Oliver opens Liesl & Po with an explanation of the circumstances that led her to write the book: her best friend died and she wrote the book as way of coping with it. I can definitely see that reflected in the story and I feel that anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to it, not just children.
Liesl’s life in the attic is simply miserable and she goes through her days robotically, without any real excitement. Sunlight has also disappeared, leaving the world cold and gray. The lovely charcoal drawings illustrate this feeling wonderfully. They are a physical representation of Lauren Oliver’s own feelings in the months after her friend’s passing.
Liesl and Po’s journey to lay her father to rest is symbolic of anyone’s personal journey in accepting a death of a loved one and saying goodbye to that person. I love that the setting and time period of the book is unspecified, so the reader can imagine it as taking place wherever and whenever. Liesl & Po deals with death in a way that doesn’t talk down to children and acknowledges that children can (and have to) deal with death on their own terms.
Although the tale is fairly dark, Lauren Oliver tempers it with humor, levity, magic, and unique characters. Liesl, Will, and Po’s unlikely friendship is delightful and they have their own very different personalities and states of being. They were all alone in the world and found solace in each other in the grayscale world they live in. Liesl is surprisingly creative and brave for a girl who unquestioningly stayed in the attic for so long. Po is an enigmatic being that seems to become more and more human as it stays in the living world. Will is an abused child and has insecurities as a result, but remains a good and loyal friend to Liesl. The other characters, namely the adults in the story besides Liesl’s father, are flat characters that are simply villainous. This aspect gives the story a fairy or folk tale feel.
I enjoyed Liesl & Po very much and found Lauren Oliver’s prose engaging and lyrical. Those who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books are likely to enjoy Liesl & Po as well.
Elizabeth is a student at Cal State Long Beach. She laughs a lot, loves cats, and lives for music and books. You can read her blog here: http://titania86-fishmuffins.blogspot.com/.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.