Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred Knopf Borzoi Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2006
Source / Format: Library Book!
Page Count: 357.
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
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Ed Kennedy is an underaged cab driver who isn't going anywhere fast. He lied about his age to drive a crummy cab around town. He lives in a shack with his smelly, yet lovable, dog the Doorman. He is in love with his best friend Audrey, even though he knows she'll never love him back, and the rest of his friends seem stuck in the same directionless rut that he is. But everything changes when he witnesses and stops an armed bank robbery. Suddenly, Ed is seen as a hero, and he receives the first Ace in the mail with three addresses. Each address is a home that needs a message delivered, and Ed becomes the unwilling messenger. The first Ace is followed by three more, each one of a different suit. He must fulfill each mission of the cards, some harder than others, and some too close to home.

Before I even mention me, I should tell you some other facts: 
1. At nineteen, Bob Dylan was a seasoned performer in Greenwich Village, New York.
2. Salvador Dali had already produced several outstanding artworks of paint and rebellion by the time he was nineteen. 
3. Joan of Arc was the most wanted woman in the world at nineteen, having created a revolution.
Then there's Ed Kennedy, also nineteen...
Just prior to the bank holdup, I'd been taking stock of my life. 
Cabdriver--and I'd funked my age at that. (You need to be twenty.)
No real career.
No respect in the community.

Like the rest of the universe at this point, I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and became obsessed. I turned my reading of that book into a full blown experience. I saw a play adaptation of the novel and went to see Markus Zusak speak about the novel twice. It's one of my favorite books of all time, and because of that, I think I was hesitant to read his other novels. I was nervous they wouldn't live up to the hugeness that was The Book Thief for me, and I would be disappointed. But after months of seeing I Am the Messenger taunt me from the shelves of my neighborhood library, and me realizing there was a small Markus Zusak-sized hole in my chest that needed filling, I finally picked it up, and I am so glad that I did! 

As the kids dance around the front yard under the nigh sky and the lights, I see something. 
Lua and Marie are holding hands. 
They look like they're so happy, just inside this moment, watching the kids and the lights on their old fibro house. 
Lua kisses her. 
Just softly on the lips.
And she kisses back. 
Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks. 
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.

It came as no surprise to me that I Am the Messenger was filled with beautifully well-rounded characters. I think Zusak is just brilliant in that way. Ed Kennedy is someone who on paper doesn't seem like much of a human at all. He doesn't have a great relationship with his mother, his living situation is less than desirable, and he has no plans for further education or career goals. Instead of being leery of our narrator though, we are sucked right into his situation and Ed is one of the most perceptive and poetic narrators I have read in YA fiction. He notices a lot of the beauty in the small things and the people he meets, and then processes them in a very real, human way. His emotions are raw and visceral, especially when he must deliver a difficult message. Ed also has a wonderful voice that was fun to read. He has a snarky way about him, and that translated well into his thoughts and dialogue with his friends. Ed had me laughing out loud one second, and then wanting to cry the next. 

After a long drawn-out silence, I confess to the father. I tell him I still don't know why I'm here. I don't tell him about the messages I've already done or the ones still left to do. I only tell him that I have a purpose here and that it will come to me. 

Even the characters that we don't get to know for very long leave an impact, much like they do on Ed. When Ed delivers his messages, he sometimes has to stake out the family or individual to discover what exactly the message is that needs delivering. In just a short chapter, we get to know very well a random stranger and what it is they need, and why something as simple as an ice cream cone can make their day. Zusak doesn't just throw these characters away though, each one leaves a lasting impression on Ed, and he sometimes visits them again and again to further validate his experiences and see how his actions have impacted their lives. Everything comes full circles with Ed and his messages, which created a beautiful reading experience for me. 

I think about what Audrey's been telling me. Maybe I truly am shedding the old Ed Kennedy for this new person who's full of purpose rather than incompetence. Maybe one morning I'll wake up and step outside of myself to look back at the old me lying dead among the sheets. It's a good thing, I know. But how can a good thing suddenly feel so sad? I've wanted this from the beginning.

I Am the Messenger is also filled with lots of great action that gives the novel a great, quick pacing. I blew through the 350+ pages of this book in a couple of days. From violence to small acts of kindness to card games, there is something always happening in this book. If Ed spends any time in his head, it is always while he is doing something else and moving on from one card to the next. 

This book cannot be fully compared to the brilliance that is The Book Thief, but it was brilliant in it's own way with beautiful, meaningful characters and lots of quick-paced action that kept the story moving. Markus Zusak has further solidified himself as one of my favorite authors, and I can't wait to read his other books.

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