Nineteen-year-old Ed Kennedy is an underachieving, underage cab driver. He lives in a shack in the bad part of town with his eat-anything dog The Doorman. He has a bitter mother who swears and criticizes him every chance she can get, and a pack of friends with just as many issues. Ed’s also hopelessly in love with his best friend Audrey, who loves no one yet goes from boyfriend to boyfriend. Then there’s Marv, proud of his beater car yet is always going on about his thousands while scrimping and penny pinching. Happily unemployed, all Ritchie seems to need for his happiness are their weekly poker games. Ed’s life is pretty routine and uninspired until the day he and his friends are at the bank, and he unwittingly stops a robbery. Then the ace arrives with clues to the first mission. The cards keep Ed busy driving around town, finding addresses and visiting people in need of something which Ed himself must define and deliver. He’s the messenger, the only one who cares, and diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts later he’s still wondering who’s sending the cards, and why.
Reading a book by Markus Zusak is a unique reading experience. It’s been a few years since I read The Book Thief, and I’d forgotten how uncannily precise he is with words. If you are to read his books for only one reason it would be for his writing alone. Not one word is wasted, and the sharpness of his phrases can literally be cutting. Because Ed is chosen to help those who are beaten, poor, sad, and lonely in his missions, I was struck many times by both the words and the hurt. The words he chooses are simple but the way he uses them is profound. Quite suddenly tears wanted to spill or a smile would burst out of me, the emotion dealt was so high. Sometimes it’s the spaces between passages or between words. Zusak is masterful at imbuing words and phrases with meaning through spacing and line changes. You could almost open the book and quote any passage, but here are a few that stuck out:
“When her hands reached out and poured the tea, it was as if she also poured something into me while I sat there sweating in my cab. It was like she held a string and pulled on it just slightly to open me up. She got in, put a piece of herself inside me, and left again.”
“Believe it or not – it takes a lot of love to hate you like this.
Everything has its purpose.”
“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say
Just in what they are.”
Strikingly beautiful, eh? With that kind of writing and the humorous and action-packed first chapter I knew I was a goner. But beyond the writing, Ed and his friends are hilarious in the chemistry between them and their shared, shameless lack of ambition. I loved them all and wanted the best for them and the people Ed is called to save. Without taking away from the literary qualities of The Book Thief, which deserves all the praise it receives, I honestly enjoyed I Am the Messenger more. A couple of scenes towards the end left me shaking my head, but otherwise I Am the Messenger is a creative, quirky, outstanding YA novel that will make you laugh, cry and think as only the best books do.