Middle Grade Monday: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver
Lisel and Po was a wonderfully sad, happy, and heart-warming story about a girl who’s lost her father, a boy who misplaces a box of magic, and a ghost and his pet who stumble into the living world and help both the girl and the boy go on an adventure. Another masterpiece from Lauren Oliver, Liesl and Po was a joy to read, and the kind of story that will live with you for years to come.
Unlike Lauren’s intensely first-person young adult books, this book is told in alternating third-person. Still achieving the same closeness as first person, the third-person floating perspective lets us see far beyond the lives of one little girl and one little boy. Lisel and Will come to life vividly on the pages of the story, their fears and dreams hauntingly real as told in Lauren’s beautiful writing style. Even the ghost Po, referred to as an “it” because it doesn’t remember if it was a boy or a girl when it was alive, is startlingly human as you follow its journeys with Liesl and Will. We also meet the kind-hearted, slightly empty-headed guard Mo, who only wants to give the little boy a hat to keep his head warm. We meet Lisel’s father, hovering on the Other Side, waiting to be re-united with his first wife and true love. And we also meet the villains of the story: Liesl’s stepmother who keeps her locked in the attic; the alchemist who employs Will, but also abuses him mercilessly; the Lady Premiere who so desperately wants the alchemists’ magic; and a thief in the night, who isn’t that important until the end.
Though there is certainly magic in this story—a good portion of the plot revolves around the search for the alchemist’s missing box of Powerful Magic—much of what is actually magical about the story is the characters themselves. As children, Liesl and Will still have dreams and magic in their hearts, stuff that has been squashed out of the adults around them (except for Mo). Their hopes are the most magical of all: Liesl’s that she will be able to take her father’s ashes to her childhood home and lay him to rest next to her mother; Will’s that he will find a friend and soulmate (in a childlike way) with Liesl, the girl from the attic window. Po, the ghost, and his little ghost cat-dog Bundle, are the only magic they need beside their dreams to keep them safe on their journey. Of course they run into gads of trouble and scrapes, but this is a child’s story after all, not an adult’s, and in the end things will end well.
The plots of each different character slowly weave together to form the heart of this story. Each character, even if they don’t have a true name, is vitally important to the final climax. This story is kind of an ode to coincidences, and the magic of ways events come together in a story, in the way they never do in real life. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “realistic.” When we sit down to read a story like Liesl and Po, “realistic” is the last thing you want. The best kind of story weaves together the realities of our world with the magic of our hearts and imaginations.