Liesl and Po – Lauren Oliver

“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.”

Liesl and Po is a beautiful children’s story that poignantly and sensitively deals with the theme of death. Lauren Oliver weaves strands of magic and fantasy through the touching story, with the inclusion of the alchemist and the most powerful magic in the world – a potion that can make the beholder young again and bring people back to life. Having introduced the novel with the fact that Liesl’s father has just passed away, it’s slightly predictable what happens – but Oliver brings a more realistic twist to it. Liesl, on a quest with her ghost friend Po and the alchemist’s assistant Will to find her father’s resting place, gets to see him one last time and say goodbye – something she was unable to do before his death.

With the subject matter and plot lines it has the potential to be quite a dark novel, but Oliver uses exactly the right combination of light and dark to make it not depressing, but not twee, either. Beautiful black-and-white illustrations accompanied the text which I loved (I think more books should have them) which means that we could see the characters, but also build on the drawings and form more finite and real ideas of what they’d look like.

This is a sweet and touching book, rare in that it can be read and enjoyed by those older than the intended audience. I’m looking forward to passing it on to my younger brother and sister when they are old enough to read.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.

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