by Lauren Oliver, published 2011
“Essence was not physical matter, Po knew. No one could touch it. No one could destroy it either… People could push and pull at you, and poke you, and probe as deep as they could go… But at the heart and root and soul of you, something would remain untouched.”
This mystical, adventurous, fantasy children’s book is worth reading just for the above quote. But you must be strong enough, and brave enough, and hardy enough to earn the right to learn this. And I almost wasn’t.
I began reading this children’s book one night. While the opening was fine — a little girl encountering a ghost and his ghost pet– I began feeling fearful and uncomfortable when we encountered the mortician who cremated bodies and salvaged the parts for the alchemist. I shut the book at page 30 and prepared to return the book to the library, unread, and unreviewed. I don’t do that often… I usually read the book to the end.
The next day, in full sunlight, I pulled the book from the library bag while I was eating outside on a glorious California spring day. In that setting, I found I could tolerate the more macabre elements of the story, and get entranced with its real message: beautiful friendship that transcends times and places, love that has the healing power to mend the world.
This creative and imaginative children’s book weaves a drama that almost feels Shakespearean, as many characters with their own mission all collide in the same place and same time. Yet we never lose sight of the three children at the heart of it, Liesl, Will, and Po. Each character is so warmly crafted, so terribly mistreated, and so heroic, that it is impossible not to finish the book, just to be sure that all ends well.
All ends remarkably well. I’m so glad I gave this children’s book a second chance. I don’t recommend it as a bed time book, and I would certainly be sure your child is not too squeamish. But most 12-year-olds can easily take this one in. Possibly 11 as well. I’m not sure I’d go lower than that, though the publisher lists 8 and up! No way…