Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Dec 11, 2012

The following information will probably only solidify the fact that I am a book nerd: One morning, not too long ago, I woke up and realized I did not have an audio book to listen to that day. This seriously was not acceptable, and I felt a little bit panicked over it. After all, how could I possibly be expected to clean the house, or do any other monotonous tasks, if I didn't have something to make it feel worthwhile?! I make it a point to never have a break between books. I always have something waiting in the wings. This might seem a little obsessive (okay, yes, it's obsessive), but think of all the good reading you're missing out on if you have a week or two, or even a few days, between books! As I said before, definitely not acceptable.

I hadn't known I was going to be without a book. The night before, I had finished one and within the hour, started another. But it wasn't what I was expecting, and I was only twenty minutes into it when I decided I didn't want to finish it. So it was that I was without anything to listen to, and I decided it was finally time to try downloading a book from the library's website (I'm afraid I will always and forever be at least five years behind the rest of the world).

Believe it or not, there is a reason for this totally engrossing back story. I selected Liesl & Po not because it was on my to-read list or because I had read amazing reviews on it, but because, as I was frantically scrolling through the options (I had to make a selection before Mike took the computer to work with him), it was the first title that I vaguely recognized and that wasn't also already checked out.

It was chosen out of desperation but enjoyed just as much as if I had been wanting to read it for months.

The night the story begins, Liesl has recently lost her father. Her grief is almost unbearable as she didn't even get to say good-bye to him. Liesl's stepmother (a truly wicked one) has kept Liesl locked up in her attic room for months under the guise that she didn't want Liesl to have to see her father so sick before his death. That very night, as Liesl is crying anguished tears, a ghost appears in the room next to her. Although a bit alarmed, Liesl is surprisingly not very afraid. She is terribly lonely and finds a welcome companion in this ghost, named Po, and its pet, named Bundle. Po is able to make contact with Liesl's father on the other side, who says he wants to go home to the willow tree. Liesl knows she must help her father find peace. Meanwhile a young alchemist's apprentice named Will accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with a container holding Liesl's father's ashes. Along with a host of other seemingly unrelated characters, the two stories converge and depart and converge again until all is made perfectly right.

So as soon as I started this, I realized that it would have been the perfect story to read in October, what with one of its main characters being a ghost and all. You know how I feel about reading books at the right time of year. But I tried not to let the fact that I was reading it a month late bother me. And you know what? It was just fine. I may be completely obsessive sometimes, but I survived. Still though, it would have been perfect for October, so just tuck that away in your brains for future use.

Out of all the characters, I think I was most impressed with the characterization of Po. When asked if it was a boy or a girl, Po said it didn't know; it had been a ghost too long to remember. The same for the pet, Bundle: it was unknown whether it was a dog or a cat. But little intimations are given throughout the story that lead the reader to suspect that Po probably had been a little boy: Po's feelings of jealousy toward Will, always wanting to one-up Will, protecting and watching over Liesl, etc. (At the end, the reader does find out for certain.) I also loved how Lauren Oliver made Po both ghost-like and human. Ghost qualities: sliding through doors and walls, usually insensitive to and confused by human emotions, etc. Human qualities: wants to help Liesl, feels a certain longing for some vague past, etc. Also, I loved the way she gave personality to Po. Even though he was just a shadow, sometimes barely perceptible, he would flicker or fade or brighten depending on his mood. Really, really well done.

I already mentioned this in the summary, but I loved the way every character mattered to the story. Even seemingly minor characters unexpectedly popped up later, and everyone ended up being connected somehow in an unusual and twisting fabric. It actually reminded me a little of Dickens, except that it was only a tenth as long which didn't give me much of a chance to thoroughly forget the minor characters before they miraculously reappeared.

At the end of the book, there was a very poignant note from the author. She wrote this story following the sudden death of her best friend. I loved what she said: "Liesl & Po is the embodiment of what writing has always been for me at its purest and most basic--not a paycheck, certainly; not an idea, even; and not an escape. Actually, it is the opposite of an escape; it is a way back in, a way to enter and make sense of a world that occasionally seems harsh and terrible and mystifying." I liked the book before I read this, but reading the story behind it brought all of the characters into much clearer focus for me. I think this shows the absolute importance for each of us to have some sort of creative outlet to sort out our feelings and emotions. It doesn't have to be writing, but we all need some way to express the things that matter most to us.

This audio book was narrated by the well-known Jim Dale (narrator of Harry Potter and more). He is a wonderful narrator, and I've listened to him narrate several other books besides this one. But it wasn't until this reading that I realized I don't love him, and here is why: his voice is too memorable. I would know his voice anywhere, and for me, that's a problem. This book had absolutely nothing to do with pirates, and yet, I could not get pirates out of my head because awhile ago, I listened to Jim Dale narrate Peter and the Starcatchers. It's just a little bit annoying to have such a deep association between the sound of his voice and the books he has narrated. That's just my opinion.

Really a great read, but I'm left to wonder: Is the moral of the story that I should always have two books ready and waiting? Or none? Because when chance and coincidence lands me a book like this one, I'm thinking it might be better not to plan.


  1. So glad you liked it. Jim's voice is beautiful but too slow paced for me. I'm thinking I need to read this one.

  2. I have had an advanced readers copy of this book since before it came out. The publisher even sent it in a cool box. Alas, I keep forgetting I have it! I need to read it!!!

    P.S. I finished Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire today. Oh my word, that was the funniest thing I've read in ages! I loved it!

    1. That's awesome! You definitely should read it! How did you get an ARC of it?

      I'm so glad you liked Mr. and Mrs. Bunny! Didn't it just make you crack up?

    2. Until the end of last year, I worked at a big box book store. (My location closed.) I was the storytime lady and in charge of the newsstand, which I managed to do in about 8-12 hours a week. I miss the perks - discount, ARCs, checking out hardcovers - and the storytimes, as well as always knowing what was new and awesome. However, it was still corporate retail, and it's lovely being off during the holidays!

      Mr. and Mrs. Bunny were a SCREAM.

  3. I loved your opening story. I feel the same way about a few things, too lately-namely yarn and fabric. What will give my day that extra sparkle if I have nothing to make?! I must always have some on hand.

  4. Oh man, waking up and realizing I had no audiobook to listen to. That's one of my worst nightmares!


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