Liesl & Po
by Lauren Oliver
Can I just say that I loved Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver? That was a freaking awesome book, so I was stoked to see this title up for grabs on Net Galley. This is my review for Liesl and Po, the one that I sent to Harper Collins. And this is a reminder to publishing companies: Just because an author is darn good at writing a certain genre, doesn't mean she will be good at another. But in the publishing world, it isn't always about being good. It's about the money...which I am sure L&P will make. It has a great cover and a great author. For what it's worth...
Liesl lives in her attic, tucked away and silent. Her father has died and she has been sent there by her stepmother to live. She is alone except for some very strange visitors. Po is a ghost who finds himself drawn to Liesl. Po brings with him Bundle, who is neither a cat nor a dog, but something in between. This is the case for all souls who find themselves on the Other Side. Things are blurrier there, which explains why Po is neither boy nor girl. Po just is. When Liesl asks Po to carry a message to her father to the Other Side, Po agrees as long as she will draw it a picture of a train. With this bargain, the lonely girl and the ghost become partners. In the midst of this deal, another lonely child, Will, is about to make a mistake that will not only put him in danger, but also bring Liesl jeopardy as well. As the children flee from angry adults, they must rely on Po, invisible to the world, to help them reach their destination and a chance for happiness. Oliver wrote this book while grieving for her best friend. Knowing this while reading will reveal quite a bit of the motivation for writing this juvenile fantasy, a change from Oliver's usual young adult offerings. It may have been cathartic for her to write this, but the characters and storyline seem all too familiar. Liesl and Will are like too many other children found in fantasy quests, and they lack any development or depth. Adult characters suffer from the same predicament and I found myself thinking of characters from a Kate DiCamillo novel or Jon Berkeley's Wednesday Tales. Oliver's story follows the juvenile fantasy formula too closely and never strays into orignal territory. Instead, I found myself re-reading a story that appears in far too many juvenile books. There were some endearing elements in the book to be sure, and young readers may enjoy the escapades of clown-like adults and cheer for orphaned underdogs. In the end, however, those few moments of merit will not be enough to make this a classic read.