I am the Messenger
by Markus Zusak
Original Publication Date: October 1, 2002
Length: 360 pages
Publisher: A Knopf Books
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
Format Read In: library book
View at the Traffic light:
protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.
That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?
It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to read a book from an author who wrote one of your all-time favorite books. Will it measure up? Will my thoughts of that all-time favorite book be tainted if it doesn’t? Since The Book Thief is one of my favorite books, I was hesitant to pick up Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger, written and published before The Book Thief hit it big. And while I will say I don’t think it ever really compares in scope or in style to The Book Thief, I am the Messenger stands as a pretty good book in it’s own right.
I am the Messenger features Ed Kennedy, the underage cab driver going nowhere fast. He has a dog he loves, a girl he’s in love with, and not a whole lot of plans. He didn’t go off to the city after graduation like all his sibling did, and in many ways, he’s stuck in the rough part of town. I am the Messenger opens with a bank robbery, and then, Ed does something–he catches the robber. He’s labelled a hero, and that’s where the story starts. He starts getting assignments on playing cards in the mail, assignments that take him all over town to meet all sorts of people. At times, Ed becomes a hero. At others, Ed does “bad” deeds for a seemingly good reason. The bulk of I am the Messenger is Ed following the cards, doing what he thinks he has to do, and wondering who is sending him on these errands.
I can totally see where, for some readers, I am the Messenger might get a little overtly sentimental at times. Since most of what Ed is sent to do is to help others, some of it reads as unrealistic and overly idealistic. That being said, it didn’t bother me–and I’m known for having a low tolerance for sappiness and sentimentality–and actually made me smile. It sounds so simple, but seeing a character act of all these random deeds of kindness made me feel happy. I loved watching characters get excited at running barefoot or a pastor in a poverty-stricken area finding a saint in a underage cab driver that gets people to go to church by offering free beer.
Zusak’s prose is as beautiful and as lush as it is in The Book Thief, which is saying something. Two very different books that totally separated themselves in my mind, but the same gorgeous writing in both. At this point, I have to say that Zusak cemented his place as one of my favorite writers. And while the plot of I am the Messenger was good, it’s really Ed’s character development that makes this book succeed. He’s just an ordinary person who does ONE extraordinary thing. . . and that act sets off a chain reaction that changes his life.
I find it interesting that I am the Messenger is marketed as YA, actually, since Ed is a nineteen-year-old pretending to be a twenty-year-old to drive his cab. I know that nineteen is technically still a teenager, but considering Ed lives on his own and basically has an adult life, I still find the YA designation strange. Not that it actually affected my enjoyment in any way, but something I did want to point out–that in many ways, I am the Messenger reads more like an adult novel than a YA one, especially towards the end.
The mystery in this book–who’s sending Ed the messages?–was resolved in a way I thought was particularly brave and wonderful. Upon closing I am the Messenger, I remember thinking “Well, that felt post-modern”. It tied everything up together, yes, but not in a way that you would typically expect from this type of story. I love books like that, so the end of I am the Messenger really worked for me.
With gorgeous prose and a fascinating main character, I was captivated with I am the Messenger, including it’s strange ending. While it doesn’t match up to The Book Thief, I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this book was. 4/5 cupcakes.