It’s not often that I find a novel as rare and delicate as LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver. This is the type of book I would have owned as a kid, the kind I would have read and re-read until it fell apart. It’s a throwback to so many of my childhood favorites. I’m really rooting for this one to at the very least be nominated for the Newbery Award. Heck, I’d like to see it win—the golden cover would look complete with a golden Newbery to match. I’d even take Silver, because it would be in good company with two of my other middle-grade favorites, ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine and PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale. I think publisher HarperCollins is also eyeing up the big awards. The ARC for LIESL & PO compares the novel to Newbery winners THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman and THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo. It’s also compared to Newbery Honor book CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White. AND the final edition has a quote on it from last year’s Newbery winner Rebecca Stead (WHEN YOU REACH ME). What a line-up! To keep comparing LIESL & PO to other childhood staples, when reading it, I often felt like this had a Roald Dahl feel to it (especially MATILDA), that there are elements of Cinderella (Liesl lives locked away in the attic and has an evil stepmother and a stepsister), and that the golden embossed cover with ghosts peeking out is very reminiscent of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. On top of all that? The artwork reminds me a little of the care and love put into Caldecott winner THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. That litany alone should make LIESL & PO stand out to the committee.
This book is fantastic, destined to be a true classic. It’s whimsical and enchanting. Oliver wrote LIESL & PO after the death of her best friend and pulled together a story from her tragedy, stating that this is the most personal of all her writing. The care and attention she paid to this idea truly shows. Her first middle-grade novel follows a young girl named Liesl who discovers that ghosts are real after her father’s untimely death. A ghost named Po appears in her room along with its pet ghost, Bundle. Liesl can’t tell if Po is a boy or a girl, if Bundle is a cat or a dog…and the truth is, neither ghost knows, either. Those things no longer matter once one has crossed over. Liesl is precocious and smart. Her favorite word is ineffable, because “it meant a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words” (Pg. 12). These are the types of gems scattered throughout LIESL & PO, humanizing the characters and making them easy to relate to. Liesl’s journey begins when Po informs her that it’s possible to make contact with her father. Because of Po, she’s able to escape from her evil stepmother and step out into the world, where she is joined by Will, a boy who has embarked on a sad journey of his own. Together, Liesl and Po must lay Liesl’s father’s ashes to rest, never knowing that they are actually in possession of the most powerful magic in the world…magic that corrupt adults will stop at nothing to obtain.
I know I’m not explaining the layers and nuances that make this novel so stunning well at all. At the same time, maybe that’s a good thing: It leaves more for you to discover on your own. The inside front flap leaves readers with this: “From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.” Perhaps that’s the easiest way to describe something as perfect as this.
This cover is beautiful, the kind that would make me instantly pick it up to see what it’s about. I love all the gold embossing and feel it’s a throwback to a lot of classic children’s literature. The gold oval image with ghosts peering out reminds me a lot of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens for some reason (perhaps it reminds me of the haunted doorknocker?). The fact that you can take the jacket off and see a secondary cover beneath the book really seals my love for this design. The cover is even more beautiful beneath, complete with two images that capture moments from the novel. The only thing that would make this cover better would be a golden (or even silver…but I want gold, darn it!) Newbery Award seal! But don’t take my word for it…this is one of those cases where you have to SEE the cover to believe it!