You know you are in for some sadness when the first sentence in a book is, “On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.” Our heroes are mistreated orphans or ghosts, all but one adult is evil, and the sun has not come out in 1,728 days. Still, many of the best children’s books (The Graveyard Book, The Giving Tree, anything by Roald Dahl) mix darkness and light, and LIESL & PO is an example of how to share difficult subjects with a young audience. Liesl’s optimism, Po’s loyalty, and Will’s kind heart are the traits that everyone hopes to maintain in the face of loss. Author Lauren Oliver’s preface states that she wrote the novel in response to the death of her best friend. What was a lifeline for an author became a gift to the reader.
There is a timeless quality to LIESL & PO which brings to mind many of my favorite books from childhood. While some readers may dislike the familiarity of the characters and plot, I believe that those books are classics for a reason and one can never have enough beautifully written stories about friendship and love. With its vaguely Victorian setting and lack of details that place it in a particular time period, this is a novel with enduring appeal.
It was easy to predict the ending of the story, but I was happy to follow the twists and turns that Oliver takes to get us there. Her writing is beautiful, and the vivid descriptions would make this an excellent read aloud. The illustrations by Kei Acedera are dreamy and fit in with the magical atmosphere of the story. If I had any complaint, it would be that the evil characters did not receive harsh enough punishments, although that may be the vindictive adult in me.
While LIESL & PO is a standalone novel, I hope it is only the first of many middle grade novels by Lauren Oliver.
Read more of my reviews at www.bookchomper.blogspot.com.
This book will appeal to readers of many ages.