Much has been said about Lauren Oliver's first foray into middle grade books, most of it good, and I was really looking forward to getting my hands on it at the BEA. To my great and undying excitement there was a bit of a bonus element to the ARC- rough sketches! The finished book is filled with lovely pencil art by Kei Acedera, but because the ARC was printed well in advance of publication they used her rough sketches as place holders. I was elated when I was thumbing through it later that day and realised, but of course now it means I need to buy a finished copy so that I can have both versions!
Do you hear that? That's the sound of my bookshelves and the hubby groaning in protestation.
Liesl has been locked in the attic by her stepmother, she's recently orphaned and very lonely, until Po shows up. Po and Bundle are ghosts, attracted from beyond by Liesl's drawings. Meanwhile, alchemist's apprentice Will, is also drawn to Liesl. Each night he sees her face high up in the attics window while he's out running errands for the Alchemist, and he fantasizes about being friends, because he to is lonely. But when Will inadvertently switches two boxes, the two humans and two ghosts are launched on a great adventure filled with surprises.
I'm not sure if it's in the finished copy, but my ARC has a note from Lauren Oliver talking about how she wrote this story while dealing with the death of her best friend. So it is hardly surprising that the story is very dark and sombre. Will, Liesl and Po are all dealing with unhappiness of one kind or another before they come together, and even once they start their adventure together they're traveling through a grey sunless world filled with unhappiness. I'm not sure if it was my state of mind while reading (I read it about a week after my grandmother died) or if it would resonate the same with a non-mourning reader, but it was a very heavy story for me. I really enjoyed it, but it felt much darker than anything I've read in that genre before. And I'm not sure I fully appreciated the "magical" element so many are raving about because it was so dark for me.
My favorite character is Mo, a security guard who worries about Will being cold because he doesn't have a hat, so he puts his cat in a sling over his shoulder and chases him across the country side with a hat just his size. Mo probably sums up the charm of the story, of which there was oodles.
My only complaint about this story was it was very young in many ways. It's a basic story arc, evil vs. good, orphans on the run etc., with not lots of meat on it's bones for older readers. So the likely hood I'd ever re-read it is slim, except I really like the illustrations, so maybe I'll have a periodic flip through just for them.
All in all it was a lovely read, very different from Olivers other books, and one I can picture reading to someone very little before bed. Especially a little one who loves a good illustration.
Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins, October 2011