Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

I Am the Messenger

MessengerI Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


I find that the publishers’ assignments of “YA” to a novel now are fairly trivial.  The last few YA books I’ve read have been more adult in theme and character than some of the adult books I’ve read, and I wonder if there’s some central conspiracy within publishing houses regarding how a book is determined YA over adult.  Zusak’s last two books were published as adult fiction in Australia (the author’s home), but because of the ages of his protagonists in those books, they were reclassified as YA for American readers.  Given that Ed Kennedy, the protagonist in I Am the Messenger, is nineteen, though, I’m still confused.

Ed is a cabdriver who stops a bank robbery in a weird sort of way.  His courage is derived from an argument that he has with one of his best friends, and has more to do with being impetuous and stubborn than anything else.  For the most part, he’s riding through life on autopilot, playing cards with his three friends a few times a week, driving a cab, and going on about his day.  He’s called a hero after stopping the bank robber, and receives a write-up in the local paper over it, but shortly after that, he receives a playing card — the ace of diamonds — in the mail.  The card has three addresses written on it, and he tracks down the locations and finds three situations that need his help: a lonely old woman; a young competitive runner; and a woman and her daughter who are terrorized by a drunk rapist of a father.  Ed finds himself compelled to help these people, both by his own motivation, and others.  In one instance, Ed starts to lose focus on his three tasks, and some goons are sent to his house to, er, “encourage” him.  This, and his own involvement with these people, drive him to complete the tasks, just in time to receive another ace in the mail.

The book seems to be about ambition, and catalysts.  Ed and his friends are stuck in their ruts, as are the people that Ed encounters in his journeys.  The people he encouters sometimes lack focus, or direction, or meaning, and Ed’s interference in their lives drives them to make something of themselves.  Even when Ed’s interactions are brutal, heartless, or even violent, the end result is that the people involved grow, and Ed, in turn, learns more about those people he affects, himself included.  In that respect, it’s a fantastic book, and Zusak’s prose is as powerful and lyrical as it is in The Book Thief.

In another sense, the book is weirdly convoluted, but in an acceptable way.  Ed seems to fall into each situation through serendipity, and understands intuitively what needs to be done in each case.  What’s even stranger is how much the people guiding him know about him.  They direct him to a location that only he and his brother know about, and at one point, there is an otherworldly focus on Ed’s life that doesn’t make sense in respect to the rest of the story.  Strangely enough, it all fits together into a mystical, almost New Age sense of reality.  I didn’t find myself questioning the validity of Zusak’s story, even if I did question why it followed the direction it did.

While not as extraordinary and powerful as The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger is another example of Zusak’s power over the written word, and another example of a wonderful, meaningful book.  I would recommend this book to readers of any age.


August 30, 2006 Posted by | Reviews, YA Fiction | 20 Comments