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Historical Fiction, Magical.Ghosts.Supernatural, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver

Liesl & PoThe best word I have for Liesl & Po is “lovely.”  I loved the story.  Although it never specifically identifies a time period, it seems very clear that it’s probably around Victorian times in Europe.  There is a Lady Premier, an Alchemyst, an Innkeeper, and an evil stepmother–as well as “the most powerful magic in the world.”

We meet Liesl first–an orphan, locked in the attic of her home for the past year while her father was taken gravely ill and then died.  Unbeknownst to Liesl, her stepmother has replaced Liesl with her own daughter, Vera, in order to inherit her dead husband’s estate.  Each night as Liesl draws pictures, silhouetted at her window in the attic, young Will, the Alchemyst’s servant boy observes her from the street.  He is drawn to her by an aura of warmth and kindness which seems to surround and emanate from her.  She becomes a light for him in his own hard life, berated and dismissed constantly by his master.

When Liesl is told her father has died, without her ever being allowed to see him in the hospital or say good-bye she is beyond heartbroken and ceases to draw her pictures or do much of anything in her tiny attic room.  It is then that Po appears.  Po is a ghost from the “Other Side.”  In exchange for one of Liesl’s pictures, Po is able to get a message to her father, who is now also on the “Other Side.”  Liesl determines to help her father truly rest in peace by burying his ashes by her mother’s.

The plotting of Liesl & Po is nothing short of brilliant.  We are drawn into the lives and histories of Augusta, Liesl’s deplorable stepmother, Will, the Alchemyst;’s boy, the Alchemyst himself, the Lady Premier, Mo, a Palace Guard for the Lady Premier with one of the most genuinely big hearts of any character I have ever come across–and even the town mortician/taxidermist who figures prominently in a key plot element.  The characters’ storylines approach each other and smoothly weave together.  There are many moments where–as the reader–you want to intervene and call to a character not to travel that path, or open that door, or walk around that corner because we know something he or she does NOT!

The ending of Liesl & Po is so moving, so rich with genuine kindness and love that it makes your heart feel as though it is expanding in your chest.  For me there were both tears and smiles.  It is one of those books that I was sorry to see end because I miss Liesl and Po and Will–and Mo the Guard.  But I would never trade the opportunity I had to meet and spend time with them in the pages of Liesl & Po.



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