Title: I Am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Literary Fiction/YA
Ed Kennedy knows he’s a nobody. However, after the nineteen-year-old cab driver thwarts a bumbling bank robbery attempt, Ed is selected by an unknown party to make a difference in the lives of people he’s never met before. His leads? Nothing more than addresses and times listed on an Ace of Diamonds playing card. Clearly, someone realizes that Ed has a propensity to take matters into his own hands.
Backed up by his friends Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey, Ed begins his quest. His complacency soon catapults into action, as the people he has been led to reveal their deepest emotional and physical scars when they think no one else is watching. Among Ed’s flock are a mother who is regularly raped by her drunken husband, a young and attractive track runner who is learning how to trust more in her own two feet than her shoes, and a foul-mouthed priest with a grand heart and a paltry congregation that could use some beer for thought.
Slowly, one intervention at a time, Ed learns that his lack of a spine is made up for by his burgeoning heart. With the support of his loyal but smelly dog, The Doorman, Ed comes to realize that he’s being watched much more closely than he first thought. Strangers pay him a home visit late at night to remind Ed when he still has unfinished business with those in need. The more entrenched he gets in his mission, the more our main hero finds himself getting battered and bruised.
Ed’s not just a messenger, however; his shadowy guide brings Ed face to face with his own trials and tribulations. As Ed comes to terms with his mom’s secret and his unrequited passion for Audrey, he begins to discover that intervening simply isn’t enough. Making a change in how Ed views himself is what will really change the world around him for the better.
Though he has to spill a few beers, lose a few taxi fares, and get beaten to a pulp by a group of teen boys, it’s ultimately Ed’s own destination that comes to matter the most. “In a sweet, cruel, beautiful moment of clarity…I tell them what I’m telling you now. I’m not the messenger at all. I’m the message.”
Author Markus Zusak has a knack for interlacing dry humor and poignant feelings of worthlessness. He brings Ed alive through a vibrant if somewhat droll existence. Ed’s life as a cab driver is neither boring nor particularly rewarding, which makes him more of a sympathetic character.
The banter Ed shares with Marv, his sour but sincere friend, always brings some levity to the story. There is a very real down-to-earth pain present in Zusak’s protagonist, even if his emotions don’t always come through clearly.
As far as drawbacks, the book’s overall messages and tone do clash from time to time. There’s a certain frivolity in Ed’s actions that doesn’t abate as much as expected when he does take a beating, or intimidate a rapist with a gun, or even admit to Audrey that he feels so much tenderness for her. However, the story moves along at a brisk pace. In addition, the narrative is fairly accessible to the general young adult audience.
Overall, I Am the Messenger is sincere, if somewhat saccharine, in its execution. There are plenty of clever ideas and questions about morality present throughout the story.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest post contributed by Richard-Michael Calzada. Richard is the mind behind “You Young Adult Nostalgic,” a blog for all things young adult, fiction, and creative writing related. You can delve into his writing mind here.