6 Rated Books Book Reviews Joint Review

Joint Review: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

Title: Liesl and Po

Author: Lauren Oliver

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publication date: October 4th 2011
Hardcover: 307 pages

We meet Liesl the night after the day her young father has died. That same day she is visited by a ghost, Po, an eight year old boy who lives on the other side, the territory between life and death that runs parallel to the living world. Po has come to tell her that her father is stuck on the other side, and that she is the only one who can help him cross over. A couple of wooden boxes. Some ashes. Some magic dust. A ghost, its pet, and a boy who forgot to wear a hat in the cold. From these seemingly odd, random characters Oliver weaves the enchanting story of how, with the aid of Liesl, these elements come together over the course of one week to restore love and luster to a world gone grey and heartless.< em>

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did we get this book: Review copies from the publisher via BEA

Why did we read this book:


First Impressions:

Ana: I have a weird chemistry with Lauren Oliver’s books: I don’t react well to them. On the surface, I can appreciate the quality of her writing but I usually feel underwhelmed by her stories and how familiar they sound to me. This is why I didn’t finish Before I Fall or Delirium 1. I wanted to see if Liesl and Po would be any different and although I did finish this one and thought it was well-written and a totally cute, lovely story, I still feel like I’ve read it all before and once more was left with that underwhelming feeling. Ultimately, I liked it but I didn’t completely love it.

Thea: When we saw this title at BEA, I was intrigued. Yes, Before I Fall and Delirium may have been a combination of over-hyped and under-whelming, but I was going into Liesl & Po with no expectations. And you know what? I liked the book. Like Ana says, it’s incredibly sweet, charming, and whimsical and a great book for a very young reader. At the same time, I understand when Ana says the book was underwhelming, because there isn’t really anything new being said with this tale. It’s a paler version of The Graveyard Book and A Little Princess and any number of familiar children’s tales. That’s not to say Liesl & Po is bad! It’s not. In fact, it’s perfect for a young reader that hasn’t been exposed to Frances H. Burnett or Neil Gaiman.

On the Plot:

Ana: It’s been 1,728 days since the sun has come out and it’s been 13 months since Liesl has been locked in the attic by her evil stepmother. But the worst numbers are really these ones: it’s been three days since her beloved father has died and Liesl wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye. Now, sitting miserably inside the small room, Liesl doesn’t even feel like drawing anymore. That’s when she is visited by a ghost named Po and its pet-ghost Bundle who end up helping Liesl escaping with her father’s ashes so that she can take them home. Meanwhile, an alchemist has created the most powerful magic in the world and his apprentice, a young boy named Will, is tasked with its delivery but gets sidetracked and well-kinda of misplaces it – in the ensuing confusion the two living kids and the two ghosts become friends. It is also worth saying that Will is very poor and it’s very cold and he doesn’t have a hat and that is something that a lovely guard named Mo cannot accept.

Liesl and Po is a farce, a comedy of errors and a competent one at that. I can’t really fault the plot with its twists and turns and how every parallel plotline came together in the end. There are lovely elements about it, including the relationship between Will and Liesl and between Liesl and Po. I thought the book was lovely, I enjoyed it a great deal but…I can’t really be more enthusiastic about it.

I feel that this is an almost archetypical story full of classic elements like the Evil Stepmother, the Poor Mistreated Orphans, the Good Dim-Witted Stranger, the Cursed World and I can’t help but to translate these elements into one word: familiar. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about familiar of course and comfort reads are awesome. But there is this one little problem that surfaces when something is this familiar: the comparisons. It is perhaps unfair to compare but the fact is, familiarity can be a problematic aspect when there is nothing particularly original about a story that is enough to make it stand out. And I didn’t think Liesl and Po stood out for me. I can’t help but to feel like that especially considering that one of the best books I read this year was another Fantasy MG novel which had extremely familiar elements but which managed to depart from these familiar elements and create something spectacularly unique and yet comfortable at the same time. I am talking about Cat Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making.

I am fully aware though that I am not the intended audience for this novel and I think that kids might enjoy this way more than I did.

Thea: To Ana’s point, I do think that readers that have not yet discovered the vast array of rich children’s fiction will likely love this book because it is a winsome, farcical and charming tale. I loved the comedic elements of the novel balanced against the darkness of death, embracing a key dichotomy that’s present in the best works of children’s fiction. When you really stop to think about books such as Liesl & Po (or The Golden Compass or Coraline or what have you), the things that happen in the story are horrific and terrible in the extreme – in Ms. Oliver’s novel, a young girl loses her father and is locked in an attic with scraps of food and water, and is never allowed to leave her prison. At the same time, a young boy is beaten, starved, and berated by a nasty Alchemist. These are not happy, lighthearted things – but the charm of Liesl & Po rests in the lilting narrative voice and the fact that our dual protagonists are hopeful and resilient in the face of their tormentors. That’s cool.

On the negative side, Liesl & Po is not a book with crossover appeal. For older readers or those who have read the books from which this novel borrows heavily, there isn’t really anything new to discover with Liesl & Po. The narrative voice is charming, but not nearly so well done as Cat Valente’s; the protagonists are sweet and winsome, but not nearly as vibrant as Coraline or Bod, Lyra or Will, or even Oliver Twist himself. There are also elements of the story that don’t really pan out – for example, why is it necessary for this world to have been cursed and blighted without sunlight? The worldbuilding is poorly executed, leaving me feeling a little confused (why not just set this in a fantastical Victorian-esque period?).

I should also mention that the book is illustrated – all in black and white inky sketches, which lend a beautiful atmosphere to the novel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the illustrations are, at times, more expressive than the writing, making Kai Acedera’s additions integral to the novel.

On the Characters:

Ana: Although I felt underwhelmed by certain elements of Liesl and Po I did warm up to its many characters – especially the children. I felt for Will and his horrible life and I loved that Liesl was so determined to get her father’s ashes to the place he loved the most. I think I loved Po the most though and I really appreciated that for the most part, it was never clear whether it was a boy or a girl (just like Bundle could be a cat or a dog) because it had been such a long time since it died and it forgot – I enjoyed reading those small moments when Po remembered things and feelings and how bittersweet these moments were.

I am not sure about the adult characters though: I do know that this is quite the classic set up but why is every single living adult in the story evil, expect for the dim-witted one?

Thea: My heart, too, went out to Liesl and Will, our Dickensian orphan heroes that endure so much. Both have a sense of integrity and justice, and both are sympathetic characters that will easily win over readers. Po, our ghostly entity is another interesting cast addition. For all that Po is an “it” (there isn’t any need for gender in the Beyond, apparently), Po starts to remember what it feels like to be human as it spends more time with Liesl. Unlike Ana, I always felt that Po was a boy – but that’s just me!

As for the adult counterparts, I agree that there is little depth or development – villains are uniformly villainous, friends are uniformly friendly. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do wish there could have been a bit more ambiguity to, say, the Stepmother Augusta, or the Lady Premier, or the Alchemist.

On a last, ponderous note – I wonder why it is that the book is titled Liesl & Po and not Liesl, Will & Po?

Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:

Ana: I enjoyed reading Liesl and Po but it was just short of being truly magical. I do think the appropriate audience will enjoy it more than I did.

Thea: What she said. I enjoyed the book as a quick, easy, mildly entertaining (yet ultimately forgettable) read. To Liesl & Po‘s credit, however, the book will probably be better received by new readers.

Notable quotes/Parts: You can read the first few pages of the book here.


Ana: 6 – Good

Thea: 6 – Good

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, apple, nook, kobo, google and sony

  1. I didn’t finish Before I Fall as it read so much like a YA Groundhog Day with added familiar ContempYA themes. I didn’t finish Delirium because it read like any other dystopian out there but with a premise that simply did not work for me. I mean, Love as a disease that needed to be banned? I can’t see how that could ever happen and I need my dystopias to be realistic. I mean, why not pick HATRED as the disease to be banned? I can totally see this working: Hatred as a disease, and everybody in the world is onboard of that train – ergo, instant Utopia, the first step toward a dystopia. THEN, things get out of hand when every single potentially negative feeling, any form of criticism, any form of fight against oppression is considered as Hatred and people get persecuted for that – ergo, instant Dystopia. But I digress


  • hapax
    November 18, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Wait — Liesl’s father died three days ago, but she’s been locked in an attic for THIRTEEN MONTHS?

    Tell me again why her father was “beloved”?

  • Ana
    November 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

    hapax – her father had been in the hospital all this time, ill.

  • raych
    November 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    You guys are SO CUTE when you are all *must…muster…enthusiasm* I feel you, though, when it’s not BAD and is even kind of GOOD but it just…ehhhhh.

    I have this in a pile somewhere. I will lower my expectations accordingly.

  • Karen
    November 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I agree completely, both about Lauren Oliver in general and Liesl and Po in particular. It was a perfectly fine book, with some charming bits, but on the whole it left me a little cold.

  • Review: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver « Waking Brain Cells
    November 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    […] The Book Smugglers […]

  • Jasmine
    April 5, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I personally thought it was amazing!

  • Michelle
    July 7, 2016 at 10:57 am

    the story sounds good!

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