Title: I Am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: YA contemporary fiction
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Marc Aden Gray
First line: The gunman is useless.
Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old cabbie living in a small town in Australia – a town that is full of other people with little prospects for improving their lives. His father died of alcoholism; his mother lives alone. Ed lives in a run down shack with his dog, The Doorman, and spends his time either driving cab, talking to The Doorman, or playing cards with his friends: Marv, Richie, and Audrey. His life seems to be laid out in front of him on an endless path of sameness. Then Ed foils a bank robbery and becomes the local hero. This one incredibly not normal act sets Ed on a different road. He begins to receive messages on playing cards – messages that lead him to people who need his help. As Ed tries to figure out how to help each of the people the cards lead him to, he is also trying to discover the underlying mystery of who is sending the cards – and why.
I Am the Messenger is an extremely different book than Zusak’s other novel, The Book Thief, but is equally worth spending your reading time on. Watching Ed make his way through the tasks on the cards was like watching someone learning how to live. Ed is an average guy. A good guy, but not very motivated, no prospects for making his life any better. And yet the challenges the cards set before him cause him to rise above his circumstances, look outside his own needs, and become more than he ever thought he could be. It is a book that shows how the most normal of people can do extraordinary things.
Along with the easily likable Ed, Zusak has peopled his novel with complex characters. The ever-lazy Richie, happily living on the dole. Marv, the ambitious one who has saved thousands of dollars, but won’t tell his friends the plans he has for the money. And the beautiful and broken Audrey, Ed’s best friend and the woman he loves more than life itself – a woman who won’t allow herself to love, or be loved by him – or anyone. The interactions and friendship of these four people give this book life and humor and pathos. The loyalty Ed feels toward these three offer a glimpse of the person behind the unmotivated apathy.
The best thing about this book, however, is the ending. While it was left a little ambiguous, the identity of the person sending Ed the messages was a true surprise – and a brilliant one, in my opinion. I’ve read some other reviews and message board posts from people who truly hated the ending – and I mean “throw the book across the room” hated it – but I found it wonderful and insane and inventive and perfect. I am left wondering if they interpreted the ending in the same way I did. If you read this book, I would love to hear your take on the ending. Please leave a comment – just give a spoiler warning so people who haven’t read it yet can skip your comment.
While this book is classified as YA, I would say that it falls in the upper ranges of this category, so if you’re a parent of a tween or teen, keep that in mind.
Audio notes: Marc Aden Gray was the perfect choice to tell Ed’s story. Actually, as the book is written in first person, he didn’t simply tell Ed’s story, he became Ed. I can still hear his voice in my head when I think of the book – and that only happens with the best of narrators.