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Friday, November 25, 2011

Leisl & Po, written by Lauren Oliver and illustrated by Kei Acedera. Harper, 2011. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"The guard's name was Mo, short for molasses, as in slow as molasses or thick as molasses. The nickname had been his since he was so young he no longer remembered what his real name was. And it was true from his earliest infancy, although his heart was as big and as warm and as generous as an open hand, his brain had seemed just a tiny bit small."

It  took me a while to set myself to reading Lauren Oliver's first book for intermediate and middle grade readers. I was busy workshopping, and visiting with dear friends. I thought I should give it my full attention, so I waited until I had some time off and I am certainly happy that I did that. It is just my kind of book, except for the ghosts, the alchemy, the helplessness of children in an adult society. Wait! Those things didn't matter. I fell in love with the ghosts, the search for magic, and the host of unique and memorable characters. I got caught up in the twists and turns of this story of a young, defenceless girl and the ghost who comes to her rescue.

It is a most enjoyable read and would make a wonderful story to share at this time of year.  I could not put it down, and finished quickly. Leisl's father has only recently died, and her stepmother has locked her in the attic, in hopes that she will be the sole recipient of all of her husband's worldly assets.  Aren't you ready to go on now you know that?

Po makes a visit from the 'other side' with his pet, Bundle. Po is a being, while Bundle is a creature...neither is easily identifiable. But, they have wondrous hearts and a genuine love for the small, lonely, heartbroken girl. So much happens in the lives of the two main human characters, Leisl and Will. Will loses a very important box, which leads a number of well-drawn and engaging men and women on a wild goose chase by train, wagon and foot to their final confrontation. Po is ever there, accompanied by Bundle and keeping Leisl safe and feeling protected. Po is the consummate friend.
There are orphans, hateful adults, good-hearted caregivers and some very funny scenes. It reminded me of some of my favorite stories by both Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens. It is a story of ghosts...more than two. There is a journey to right wrong, loyalty and betrayal, and even heroism. You will long remember each of the characters introduced.

Lauren Oliver proves, once again, her undeniable gift of words and stortelling. Meet Sticky, who has an unexpected connection as the tale nears completion:

"He was, as Mrs. Snout had guessed, a career criminal. His nickname was Sticky, and he was a thief. He would steal anything that wasn't nailed down: money from church collection plates, candy from a baby, the shirt off the back of a beggar. The reputation of his long, pale fingers, which attracted wallets, coins, and earrings like a magnet attracts steel filings, had earned him his nickname."

You know what he looks like you, don't you? Well, in case you don't have the imagination needed to conjure his image, you have Kei Acedera to thank for bringing him to you in a black and white illustration, one of the many that grace the pages of this tale. The mood is sombre, as is the land where sunlight has not visited in more than 1,728 days. But, the illustrator adds light in various ways to give hope, and the constant image of the willow tree to always lead Leisl 'home'.

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