YA Friday: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Friday, October 14, 2011

Title: I am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: YA
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005
Source: Graduation gift from the hubs
Read for: The awesomeness

Ed Kennedy is a loser. He drives a cab (illegally), pines for a girl who has gone with just about every guy in town except for him, lives in a shack with a dog that drinks coffee and smells like death itself, and spends all his free time playing cards, drinking, and reading. His mom can't stand him. He doesn't have a car. However, after accidentally stopping a bank robbery, he begins receiving cards in his mailbox, directing him to strange tasks. Some are simple, like buying an ice cream for a harried mother. Others are more complicated. As the messages and lessons intensify, Ed is left wondering who is sending him these messages, and what their motivation is.

I got this book the night I heard Markus Zusak speak and later found myself in the library at 1:00 AM with it in my hands, one of the last volumes that he signed. (I was going to take a picture of the title page, but I'm at school and then going out of town for the week, so... oh well). It already held a special place in my heart, just because of the circumstances that led me to owning it. However, it hovered on the TBR for months, the way books I've purchased tend to hover, until my husband (who read it shortly after we purchased it) asked me in exasperation, "Were you going to read that book I bought for you?" Properly chastised, I read it as soon as possible and was so grateful that I did.

Markus Zusak's writing style is decidedly strange. He is disjointed. He likes to write paragraphs with only one five word sentence. This has the potential to be annoying, except for the fact that he speaks exactly the same way, so it felt very genuine to me. He walks a thin line between being overly quirky and being refreshingly unique, but for me, his writing falls on the side of brilliant and impactful (which blogger informs me is not a word, but which I wish to use anyway) every time. His staccato sentences drive each point until they are firmly imprinted in my brain, until I am registering Ed's feelings as if they are his own.

This story is just as unique as Zusak's writing style. The situations and the steps Ed takes to fix them are not cliches, but they ring true to the human experience all the same. It is because of their variability and uniqueness that they spoke to me - because they felt so real. I loved the way the cards became more and more difficult for Ed to decipher, beginning with simple addresses and progressing to riddles that take some innovation to solve (the library scene? Priceless).

The other Zusak book I have read, The Book Thief, was heavy with emotion, and I am the Messenger is dripping with it as well. You can't have a book about making a difference in people's lives without giving it a hearty dose of human feeling. I think this is part of the allure of Zusak's writing as well - there is so much feeling present. It is palpable through the pages. I am the Messenger brought me tears more than once, and it was usually in a public area. It left me desperate for more when the train pulled into the hospital and I had to get off and start my day. It engaged me wholly - my heart was speeding up with Ed's, my eyes were filling when he witnessed something inspiring or heart-breaking.

More than the emotion, more than the unique story or the unique writing style, what I loved most of all was Ed's growth, when he came into the knowledge that by improving others' lives, he was shaping and saving his own. I think that is one of the most well-known secrets to happiness, and yet it is so hard to implement for some reason that I think very few people are ever truly successful. Ed was transformed from a nice, directionless kid with a big heart to a strong and passionate man with a knowledge of his capacity for good. I was inspired by this book - it made me want to make changes in my own life, to grow into the kind of person Ed starts to become and to bring the joy to people's lives that he brings. As Ed says in the final pages of the book, "I am the message." And he is - he is the message that happiness comes from love, not personal achievement or ambition.

This is a book worth reading, regardless of whether you normally have YA on your shelves.

5 stars

Warnings: Violence (beatings, mostly), innuendo, language (a fairly large amount, but no F-bombs)


  1. I've only read The Book Thief, but I loved it. I knew you liked this one too, and I've heard a lot of other people say the same thing. I'll have to find it.

    Though I've been kind of wanting to pick up The Book Thief again. It's been a long time, and it was just so good.

  2. I'm so glad you finally read and liked this one. It's my favorite Zusak. You pointed out some great things I hadn't really thought about. I don't know how but I did. Thanks!

  3. Allison - i want to reread The Book Thief too. This was a very different story but you can definitely tell it is Zusak.

    Jenny - It was really good! I think it is pretty much tied with The Book Thief for me. I haven't read any of the Ruben Wolfe books yet, though.

  4. I'm glad you loved this, I love his writing so much, it has so much heart. And impactful is a fantastic word :-)

  5. The strange disjointed style of writing that you mention? That's exactly what I love! That and the imagery. Oh, and the emotion. Yes. I love it. Glad you enjoyed this one too.

  6. Danielle - Haha I'm glad you approve of my word. I think I am going to keep using it. :)

    Suey - He is so amazing. When I first starting reading his books I had moments when I wasn't so sure about his writing style, but it grows on me more all the time.

  7. I actually think I might like this one more than The Book Thief... Both were amazing but there was something about this one that just completely overwhelmed me with how amazing it was. I really, REALLY need to reread it and I'm completely jealous that you got to see/hear MZ!

  8. I think this one is more real -- it's taking place in the here and now. And you are contemporary queen. :) If you ever get the chance to meet MZ, take it!


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