Liesl & Po begins very darkly. Liesl’s attic room is a “uniform gray darkness,” much like the world outside her window. In this bleak environment, she meets Po, a smudge of a ghost, three nights after her father dies. Po lives on the Other Side, a shadowy dimension of wild uncertainty.

The likable characters in this story all have some sadness and loss in their lives, while the villains are ugly and dark from a lack of inner light or feeling. Both types contribute to the somber mood in this lightless world. But small joys and flashes of warmth offer promise of what is to come.

Liesl and Po set out on a quest to restore Liesl’s father’s ashes to the home of her childhood. Along the way, author Lauren Oliver brilliantly weaves a cast of characters whose life stories begin to intersect in miraculous ways. Although the events feel a bit contrived at times, as the reader foresees the coming connections, these happy coincidences are not begrudged. Oliver is careful to make the entire construct feel like a fairy tale and young readers will be pleased by the way all the pieces come together.

In the passing of only a few days, we reach a conclusion that gives us the light we and Liesl and Po crave throughout the story. There is the redemption we hope for, the easing of sadness, and the delight in the hope newly found. This is a small story with big feeling, a quiet movement in a loud world, and a book definitely worth reading.

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