Liesl & Po” by Lauren Oliver, ages 8-12. $16.99

Start with an orphaned girl held captive by an evil stepmother.

Add in a ghost who comes complete with a pet.

Stir in a mix-up that sets the action in motion.

Pile on a dollop of gruesomeness.

Stir it all together, and what do you get?

The rich, delicious treat that is “Liesl & Po.”

There is an awful lot that is sad about this story. The opening words of the book are “On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.” And at another point in the story, she wakes up in the middle of the night and she’s not sure where she is. “For one cursed second she believed herself a tiny child again, back at the pond by the willow tree, pressed facedown into the velvet-soft moss that grew above her mother’s grave.”

And if all the book was sad like this, we might not recommend it.

But because Liesl has Po, her ghostly friend, and Bundle, his pet, with her as she goes on a very important — and as it turns out, magical — journey, the reader knows that despite the sadness that has come into her life, she will never be alone.

There are lots of strange things that happen in Liesl’s story. There are mistakes and mix-ups and coincidences that collide in this book. Just like in life.

— Tracy Grant