Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Ghostly Friendship Frees The Light

I don't know what took me so long to make this decision but, after reading thousands of books, from now on I am collecting first lines.  They, like a first paragraph or first chapter, can take the reader away to another time and place within moments.  Whether introducing a character, setting the stage, raising expectations or providing the perfect lure, first lines are the stuff of power.  Lauren Oliver, in her first title for middle grade readers, delivers a stunner in Liesl & Po.

On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.

Some thirteen months ago when her father was hospitalized with a strange illness, Liesl was locked in an attic room by her conniving, toad-like stepmother, Augusta, who proclaimed profusely that it was for her protection.  Strange her own daughter, Vera, was free to enjoy the fruits of Liesl's father's labors along with Augusta.

Neither boy nor girl, Po, has been drawn from the Other Side to the Living Side along with his constant companion, Bundle, neither dog nor cat.  Liesl and Po need one another for reasons more clear to the one than the other.  As a bargain is sealed between the two, the threads of friendship began to form.

Unbeknownst to Liesl, Will, an orphan, has become assistant to an alchemist dabbling in magic best left alone but which will assure him a status of great power if he succeeds.  As Will runs errands on many still, dark nights, he often pauses beneath Liesl's attic window gazing upward hoping to meet her, to become her friend and protector.  Through no fault of his own, other than exhaustion, Will commits an error.

Coincidences; mix-ups; harmless mistakes and switches.  And so a story is born.

Will was entrusted by the alchemist to deliver a box of huge magic, the biggest the alchemist had ever made or attempted to make, to the Lady Premiere.  He was instructed to go there first, then to Mr. Gray, the undertaker.  He does not.  That is why Liesl's household is in possession of the box of magic and the Lady Premiere has a box filled with the ashes of Liesl's recently deceased father. 

Liesl, Po, Bundle and Will escape the confines placed upon them by life (or the afterlife) to begin a journey attempting to fulfill the request of a dearly departed.  The alchemist, Augusta and the Lady Premiere are in hot pursuit with murder on their minds.  Thrown into the mix is a kindly, cat-loving guard of Lady Premiere's, Mo, who only wants to give Will a hat.

Lauren Oliver as she did in Delirium, previously reviewed here, is the true alchemist in this tale; using language to conjure an effect radiating characters for which readers will cheer or come to loath, a sense of place unlike any previously known and the pure, overwhelming joy at knowing there are people on whom you can rely through life and even beyond in death.

As he had walked down empty street after empty street, past row after row of darkened houses, in silence so thick it was like a syrup that dragged his footsteps away into echoes before he had placed a heel to the ground, he had imagined it perfectly:  how he would come around the corner and see that tiny square of light so many stories above him, and see her face floating there like a single star.

From the courtyard he heard a man calling out, "Where are you, you useless, worthless shrivel-head? When I find you, I swear, I'll cook you for dinner and turn your innards to meat loaf?"  He recognized the man's voice:  It was the one with the dripping nose, the man who had introduced himself as the alchemist.

Liesl managed to smile at him.  She liked that word:  we.  It sounded warm and open, like a hug.

Black and white illustrations that appear to be done in pencil and charcoal mirror the flow, the fiction, the flavor of this story in every respect.  Kei Acedera splendidly portrays the visions formed by the words of Oliver.

Certainly, frequently, a comedy of error, suspense at every turn, supposed kindness that takes a cruel turn but most assuredly this is a tale of wonder, of darkness overcome by a magical glowing light, a light released by friendship and love.  Liesl & Po written by the hand and most assuredly by the heart of Lauren Oliver is a fantasy that touches the very core of your soul; that will resonate in your mind for years to come.

I invite you to explore Lauren Oliver's web site and the web site of Liesl & Po for a treasure trove of goodies, videos, icons, wallpaper and a study guide to name a few.

No comments:

Post a Comment