Markus Zusak is probably best know for his #1 NYT bestseller, The Book Thief, which I thoroughly enjoyed (despite the tears and the massive headache which may or may not have been brought on by too much fangirling). I decided to venture into some of his earlier works. The first one I encountered was I Am the Messenger (alternatively titled The Messenger).
I Am the Messenger is “the story of down-and-out teenage cab driver Ed, who receives cryptic messages via playing cards that direct him to help strangers in need.” (Chicago Public Library) The novel starts off in a bank in Australia, where a gunman is keeping Ed and his friend Marvin hostage as he attempts to rob the place–
The gunman is useless.
I know it.
He knows it.
The whole bank knows it.
Even my best mate, Marvin, knows it, and he’s more useless than the gunman.
The worst part about the whole thing is that Marv’s car is standing outside in a fifteen-minute parking zone. We’re all facedown on the floor, and the car’s only got a few minutes left on it. (Zusak 1)
The thing that struck me as soon as I began reading it was how different it was from The Book Thief. I opened it expecting sickness and death. What I got was Ed.
According to pretty much everybody (including himself), Ed is worthless past, present, and future. He’s illegally driving a taxi. The one girl who cares about him has stuffed him into the dreaded friend zone. His father died an alcoholic, and he’s stuck delivering coffee tables to his not-so-lovely mother. Depressing, I know, but I still found myself laughing and nodding along with Ed.
Ed is hilarious in the self-depreciating sort of way that many millennials are. Through all the humor, I did sense the underlying theme of depression, which was remarkably well-done and touched me deeply. Zusak’s voice and style are incredible.
There was a bit of an info dump at the beginning, but it wasn’t too much of a sore thumb. The book was fast-paced, and it would’ve been hard to give out information and background about the characters as the plot progressed and quickened. So, forgivable.
Clichè? Perhaps a little. There was a little bit of the “chosen one” trope lingering among the pages, but I think Zusak may have done that on purpose–we realize as the book progresses that there isn’t anything special about Ed. Ed’s never really been on a journey to save others, anyway… he’s on a journey to save himself.
As to the target audience, I wouldn’t recommend it to elementary kids because of references to sexual abuse and, you know, “doing the do” in general. Also language. It’s not erotica, though, so it should be a safe and comfortable book to discuss in an older teen or adult book club, for example.
The story has elements of action, adventure, suspense, romance, and humor. It’s sweet, bitter, sad, happy, angry, and deep… something for everybody. It’ll take your emotions on a roller coaster ride, but it’s so worth it. If you’re looking for a page-turner that makes you both laugh and cry, I highly recommend I Am the Messenger. 4.5 stars out of 5 from me.
Until next time.
Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. Knopf, 2006. Print. (ISBN: 978-0-375-83099-0)