Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Liesl and Po

Liesl and Po

Lauren Oliver
Illustrator:  Kai Acedera 
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2011   ISBN: 978-0062014511

Liesl Morbower has spent months locked in the attic of her home. Since her father was taken off to the hospital (where he later died), her stepmother Augusta has kept Liesl hidden away, feeding her tiny and inadequate meals twice a day. No one knows that Liesl is there except the servants, Augusta, her daughter Vera, and Will. Will is an orphan who is serving as an alchemist’s apprentice. He does not really like his job, but he is fed and has a roof over his head, so he puts up with the terrible working conditions and the scolding and verbal abuse of his master.

   One night Will is told to take a box containing a very special magic to the Lady Premier. On the way home he has been told to stop at Mr. Gray’s shop to pick up some supplies that the alchemist needs. Will does not quite follow orders. First he goes to Liesl’s house to look at her. He has never talked to Lisel but he has watched her from the street many times. Then Will goes to Mr. Gray’s shop and while the man is gathering everything on the alchemist’s list, Will nods off. When he wakes up he is groggy and does not pay attention to what he is doing. He grabs a box and takes it to the Lady Premier’s house. He has no idea that the box he took is not the one containing the special magic. Instead, it is the box contains the cremated remains of Mr. Morbower, Liesl’s father. Mr. Gray provides “body disposal, corpses, animal and human parts” and Augusta sent her husband’s body to Mr. Gray to be cremated.

   Three days after the death of her father, two ghosts visit Liesl. One is Po and the other is Po’s companion Bundle. Po has been dead so long that it is not sure if it is a boy or girl. Similarly, Bundle might have been a dog or a cat. In the Other Side ones sex or species simply does not matter. Liesl begs Po to find her father on the Other Side and to give him a message. Though Po does not expect to find Mr. Morbower, he does, and the man tells Po how much he wants to go back “home” to the place where he was happy with his daughter and his late wife.

   Po tells Liesl about the conversation that it had with her father, and Liesl decides that she, with Po’s help, will take her father’s ashes to “the place of the willow tree,” to the place where her father was happiest. Liesl knows that she must do this but she has no idea how she is going to escape from her attic prison. Luckily, Po is more than willing to help and this is exactly what he does. He is able to scare the maid into leaving Liesl’s door unlocked and the girl makes a clean get away. She has no idea that the box that she steals from the house does not contain her father’s ashes but it contains magic that the alchemist and the Lady Premier want very badly. She has no idea that her journey to the house with the willow tree is going to be fraught with complications and danger.

   In this extraordinary story, Lauren Oliver tells her story from several points of view, weaving the threads of the story loosely at first, and then more tightly as the paths of the different characters come together. There is poignancy, humor, magic, love, and so much more woven into the tale, and readers may find themselves feeling just a little breathless, and perhaps a little contemplative, when they reach the end.