I had this book queued up on my Kindle when Shannon Messenger reviewed it a few weeks ago, so I was very excited to read it. I’m not sure what I expected. It reminded me of BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu–the language, darkness and magic. Despair is evident throughout, but the novel left me with a feeling of hope. Beautifully executed.
Here’s the description from Lauren Oliver’s website:
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. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.
Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.
And as usual, here are five things I loved about LIESL & PO:
1. The puzzle pieces – The story is told from multiple points of view that are like interlocking puzzle pieces. I wondered why I needed to know each piece of information and was compelled to try and fit it all together as I read. Why did the old woman from the train keep following the kids? Why should I care about the greasy thief? Why was it important to know about Mo’s sister? Lauren Oliver keeps the reader oriented with wrap-ups like the following:
“Train 128 steamed past the blurry gray countryside, past cracked and blackened fields.
Will pressed his nose to the window.
Liesl tucked her chin to her knees and slept.
Bundle watched over Liesl.
Po was a shadow on the wall, unmoving.
The old lady with the cane finished searching all the passenger cars, then berated the policeman for letting the crazy girl with the wooden box get away.”
That particular scene goes on to explain several other characters’ whereabouts and remind us they’re all important.
2. The itness – The concept of ghosts on the Other Side having lost a sense of identity fascinated me. Po is neither girl or boy. Bundle is neither dog or cat. And yet, even with the ambiguity, Po struck me as male throughout the story, and Bundle seemed more like a dog. I think male/female and cat/dog are so identified by certain characteristics that it’s hard to make a character neither. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Still, it was interesting.
3. The absence of color – This point really struck me as a representation of Liesl’s grief and the overall bleakness of the world Lauren Oliver built. Who can imagine a life without color? Who wants to? When she explained how the color disappeared, I thought, “Oh, that’s good.” And I started wondering how she would make it return …
4. The names – I can tell how much thought went into naming the characters. The names tell you something about the characters before you get to know them, but they’re not all stereotypes. Mr. Gray the undertaker. The Lady Premiere (who named herself, and don’t forget “the”). Mo the guard. Mrs. Snout. At the same time, some characters remain nameless–even one of the main characters–and that’s also telling. The alchemist (the closest to a name is Mr. Gray calling him Merv). The old woman with the cane. The policeman. Very well done.
5. Liesl’s word – I love that Liesl uses a word to keep herself centered and calm. I love even more that it’s not an everyday word, but it means something to her.
“She liked the word ineffable because it meant a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words.
And yet, because it could not be expressed in words, people had invented a word to express it, and that made Liesl feel hopeful, somehow.”
She explains that it reminds her of her father reading to her and how he read “real grown-up books, with real grown-up words.” A perfect picture of her relationship with her father.
If you’ve read LIESL & PO, what did you think?
For querying authors, Lauren Oliver is represented by Stephen Barbara of Foundry Literary + Media.