Review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger
By Markus Zusak
357 pages
Knopf Books for Young Readers

19-year old Ed Kennedy is an underage cab driver who is in love with his best friend (she doesn’t love him back) and living a dead-end life when he unwittingly becomes a hero by thwarting a hilariously incompetent bank robbery. Soon afterward, Ed begins receiving playing cards with names written on them – names of people he is supposed to help, save, or otherwise deal with.

I picked up I Am the Messenger because I wanted to read more by Markus Zusak after sobbing my way through the heart-stomping cryfest that is The Book Thief (read it. today.). Story aside, I really enjoyed Zusak’s style of writing and I was hoping for more of the same with Messenger. For the most part, I was not disappointed. Ed is an extremely likeable narrator – he’s a lollygagging screw-up with a crap ass job, equally lollygagging screw-ups for friends, and few prospects to improve his lot in life. What makes Ed so endearing is that he realizes that he’s basically a huge loser; at one point he compares himself (extremely unfavorably) to Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali and Joan of Arc when they were 19. His self-awareness of his unremarkable life and total lack of ambition leads to a lot of self-deprecating humor, which is a trait that I find irresistible in both real and fictional people.

Almost more likeable than Ed, though, are the supporting cast of characters. Even the ones who appear only briefly make a lasting impression. First of all, The Doorman completely stole my heart. The Doorman is Ed’s smelly 17-year old dog and closest confidante. Ed carries on conversations with The Doorman over coffee (which they both drink) and bounces ideas off of him as he tries to unravel the mystery of who is sending him the playing cards. I have a weakness for dogs (seriously, authors, if you want me to set your book on fire go ahead and kill a dog) and The Doorman was such an awesome friend to Ed that I found him extra irresistible. I won’t give away who Daryl & Keith are, but they were incredibly funny. Milla brought a tear to my eye several times. Zusak sets up some really amazing scenarios. Even Ed’s shrew of a mother (and she is most def a shrew) is endearing in her own horrible, shrill way.

Many of Ed’s assignments are of the heartwarming variety, helping people who are lonely, lack self-confidence, or are damaged in some way. Some of them are quite distressing as well, though, and it adds tension to the story. I actually found it a little jarring to read Ed’s struggles with some of the more difficult assignments, because I grew attached to him early on and some of them were truly unpleasant and dangerous.

Then I came to the end, and I’m not going to lie…when I read the final chapter, this is pretty close to my initial response:

I literally sat there, stunned. I spent the entire book trying to figure out who was sending those damn cards, and I never even came close to getting it right. I felt…I don’t know, cheated? I decided to give it a few days before I wrote this review because I wanted to think about it for a while, and I’m glad I did. The more thought I’ve given it, the more I’ve warmed up to it. I like that I didn’t see the end coming, and I like that it went in a direction I wasn’t expecting.

Recommended.

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