by Lauren Oliver
Read in Hardback
Big Themes: death, ghosts, orphans, magic, evil adults
With the help of a ghost named Po, two children embark on a journey to return the ashes of Liesl's father to their proper resting place beneath the willow tree. But conflict arises when there is a mix-up: the wooden box with her father's ashes is unknowingly switched with a wooden box
containing the most powerful magic in the world.
What I Liked:
First off, the cover of this book is gorgeous, which is especially worth mentioning since there are TWO gorgeous covers. The book jacket is nice, but I personally loved the cover underneath the jacket even more. Bonnie @ ABackwardsStory did a great post on the cover including a video, which is probably the best way to appreciate it if you don't have it right in front of you. Pictures don't do it justice.
Another thing I liked in the book was Oliver's use of language and descriptions. She just has a lovely way of putting things. Here's a quote from the book describing the process of becoming a ghost, as told by Po,
"He might have already begun the process of becoming part of Everything. He would begin to feel the electricity from distant stars pulsing through him like a heartbeat. He would feel the weight of old planets on his shoulders, and he would feel the winds of distant corners of the universe blowing through him." Page 45You can turn to just about any page in the book and find a gorgeous, lyrical sentence such as the one above.
And the final thing that I really appreciated was how this book was such an emotional journey for the author to write. After reading the book and reading Oliver's Author's Note, you'll have a powerful understanding of the root of this story.
My biggest issue with the book was pacing. Typically, a middle grade book does not take me two weeks to read. I kept waiting to get sucked into the story, but it never happened. I have two reasons why I think the pacing of this book was slow:
- The shifting point-of-views: Oliver was constantly shifting who was telling the story. So many times that I lost count of how many people narrated the story. I think this hurt the pacing in two ways. One, it didn't allow me to form a strong bond to Liesl, and actually diminished her role in her own story. Because I didn't bond with Liesl, I wasn't as invested in her story. Two, the shifting point-of-views sometimes overlapped the events they were telling. I would catch myself getting bored because another character was telling about an event from their own perspective that I'd already read from a different character's perspective.
- Heavy descriptions: Descriptions are such a tricky thing for authors. On the one hand, they can be beautiful and a delight to create. They help the reader get lost in your world. But descriptions can also slow down the pacing of the book. This is the first book I've read by Oliver, and I'd only heard good things about her. I'm still going to read Before I Fall and Delirium, but if Oliver is a description heavy author, I wish I'd known that going in. I tend to save my slower reads for long weekends or lazy summer days because they take a little extra concentration on my part. And at the end of a long work day, the last thing I want to do is concentrate... I need a fast, easy read.
I had a few logistical issues, too. While it was explained with magic, the sun disappearing for over a thousand days and people starving seemed pretty major... and required more than just magic for me to buy it. I know it was a metaphor for her own depression, so I'm really trying to not be too critical.
I also wish we'd had more bonding with Liesl's father so that we'd be more invested in Liesl's journey to put him at rest. Just a few touching moments where we see the father/daughter relationship would have been nice.
While there were aspects of this book that I admired and enjoyed, it isn't going on my "Middle Grade Favorites" shelf. I gave it 3 stars out of 5 on Goodreads. But maybe it deserves three and a half...