Now, I have a bit of a YA reader confession to make. Despite her being all the rage with her twin bestsellers Before I Fall and Delirium, I had yet to read anything by Oliver when Liesl showed up on the lunchroom table at work. I snatched it up, intending to send it over to my friends at WhatchYAreading.net, but then I opened it and read the preface, and decided to keep this one for myself.
Liesel & Po is the embodiment of what writing has always been for me at its purest and most basic—not a paycheck, certainly; not an idea, even; and not an escape. Actually, it is the opposite of an escape; it is a way back in, a way to enter and make sense of a world that occasionally seems harsh and terrible and mystifying.For me, I think that was what drew me to this story. One of the things that is so utterly easily lost in the frenzy of writing for commercial appeal, the hunt for an agent, the examination of even the most minute shifts in trend, is writing as a way back to the self. I've written ever since I was a little girl; it was a way for me to play with my imaginary friends without being made fun of by my brothers. So, writing which allows someone to tap back into the world—that's exactly the kind of writing I want to read.
Liesl is, at its core, a charming story of a girl's search not only to restore her father's ashes to the resting place he wished (an autobiographical part of the story, according to the preface), but also the story of how such a search can end in creating space for one to have friends and hope. There's a lot here for its middle grade audience to love: magic, evil adults and kids who triumph, and the fascinating illustrations by Kei Acedera.
But for me as a writer, it was a reminder that sometimes the most deeply personal writing can also break those bonds of commercial viability, and that writing close to the heart can produce a story worth telling.
Some reviewers have critiqued this story for being a bit coincidental, and I can see merit in that. Parts of it do fall together a bit unnaturally neatly...but then, that can be a bit of a hallmark of middle grade. I don't think it detracts from either the story or its message, and I predict this one will be a fun read for its target audience.
It's pretty rare that I buy a copy of a book that I have an ARC of, but in this instance, I really want the finished hardcover with all its completed illustrations. So, that means that this ARC (which is gorgeous--HarperCollins went all the way for embossing and deckled edges even on the ARC!) is up for grabs. If you'd like it, leave me a note (I'd love it if you'd follow, too, but hey, it's up to you), and maybe tell me how you feel about writing from the heart. To sweeten the pot, I'm going to offer up my other ARC releasing this week: Eve, by Anna Carey, a new YA dystopian also coming out from HC. Check it out on Goodreads, and leave me a comment if you'd like it. I'll pick folks for both books when I do next week's Strict Pick.
Liesl & Po at Powells
Liesl & Po at Amazon
Liesel & Po at Barnes & Noble