Plot: Since Liesl’s father fell ill, her stepmother has kept her locked in the attic. After his death, she meets meets and befriends a ghost named Po. Po brings back a message for Liesl from the Other Side: her father cannot rest until he returns to the willow tree where her mother is buried. She makes a daring escape with (what she thinks are) her father’s ashes and goes on a crazy adventure to a vaguely remembered home pursued by alchemists, princesses, security guards, bumbling (and love-struck) aprentices and evil step-mothers.
This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy received at Book Expo America.
This book was unique and delightful. It reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones at her best with its quirky narrative voice, evil grown-ups and the funny coincidences that drive the plot. She also brings an entirely new twist on ghost stories. Her ghosts are not frightful specters (books are always getting that wrong, as Po points out) but shadowy and blurry creatures, barely separate from the world they live in. Po and its little cat/dog Bundle are fun and charming as are Liesl and the aprentice, Will.
I can’t comment extensively on the illustrations as some are missing in my copy. Those that are there have a pleasant sketchy quality that suits the story (see the book trailer below to get an idea of how they look). But the cover is great; I love the shadow form of the ghosts in the illustration and the interlinked characters surrounding them. It perfectly suits the story.
Lauren Oliver has always been a good writer but if she ever feels like making a career in middle grade fiction, I’m right behind her. I highly recommend this book.