When Liesl & Po opens, there is no sunshine in the coastal city of Dirge. An alchemist, in his pursuit of fame and fortune, has leeched it from this place. When he finally procures 1 cup of pure sunshine and completes the process, he places the magic in a box and directs his apprentice, Will, to deliver it immediately.
But Will has other things on his mind; he’s developed a bit of a longing for a girl he’s seen through an attic window, and every night he goes to stand in the street to watch for her. The night Will is tasked with delivering the magic is no different. And because of his detour to see the mysterious girl, he bungles the delivery. A mix-up occurs: the box of magic is switched for a box of cremated ashes.
The girl Will longs for is Liesl, who has been living in the attic ever since her father became ill and passed away. On the very same night that Will is delayed delivering the magic because he is looking for another glimpse of the girl in the attic, Liesl is visited by two indistinct shadows. The shades are Po, a ghost (child-shaped), accompanied by Bundle (a shaggy, animal-shaped ghost that could be either cat or dog). Po passes on a message from Liesl’s father on the Other Side—he wants his ashes to be buried with her mother. But his ashes are the very same ones that have been exchanged for the most powerful magic in the world…
And that is how Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver begins, propelled by coincidence and circumstance. The lives of these characters run along golden lines that zip tightly together. Liesl & Po is more middle grade than YA, but the story is touching and funny in a way that everyone can appreciate. The two orphans go on the run; Liesl from her wicked stepmother, and Will from the furious alchemist. Liesl’s favorite word is ineffable, because “It [means] a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words.” The word makes her feel hopeful because people had still somehow invented a word to express this too-big feeling; they created a word for something that could not be put into words. Liesl & Po is full of this sentiment.
There is a fairytale-like feel to this story. It is narrated by an unnamed first person speaker, the teller of this tale, who only very occasionally will directly address the reader. For the most part, the story unfolds in third person, with the point view of roveing around so that we can follow each character and see the other characters from varied perspectives. My favorite character is definitely Po, a charming grouch of a ghost. Po and Bundle make an awesome team and are super handy in their journey to bury Liesl’s father’s ashes. It’s sad that Liesl and Po’s friendship isn’t actually explored that much.
What I really love is that even though Lauren Oliver lightens this book with humor in moments that are almost ridiculous farces, this is still a fairly dark tale—accompanied by these terrific charcoal/black pencil sketches that echo the bleakness of a world without sun and color.
When Liesl and Will finally meet up in a city of fire and smoke, and Will thinks to himself that “The girl was weirder than he’d imagined she would be. But he wasn’t sure he minded.” This is one of my favorite quotes from the book because it captures the clear voice of welcoming the weird and wonderful that runs through this entire story.
Lee likes all things spy, smelling books, and is almost always craving a cheeseburger. She tweets from @lkyim about reading books NOT assigned for class. Also she likes Greek mythology. And dogs.