Markus Zusak is certainly among the best contemporary young adult fiction writers. To be honest I was a little bit disinclined to read I Am the Messenger given that after The Book Thief my standards for Zusak’s works are extremely high. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. It is difficult to compare both novels as they are extremely different. Yet they have one thing in common – Zusak’s extraordinary talent and imagination. The author beautifully uses the language to tell a feel-good story about the goodness of human nature, which at times I feel is almost extinct.
Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old underage cab driver, who spends his days working, playing cards with his three best friends or drinking coffee with his dog, the Doorman (yes, this is his name because apparently he likes standing by the door). He lacks any motivation to change his dull existence or any dreams to amount to something. His siblings have all moved away from this god forsaken town and he is the only one left to remind his mother of her failure.
Everything changes one day when Ed witnesses a bank robbery and eventually catches the robber. This is not a very big accomplishment either, as the robber is the worst robber in history. Nevertheless, Ed becomes something of a local celebrity and a few days later his life changes. Ed begins receiving aces in his mailbox – first diamonds, followed by clubs, spades, and eventually hearts. On each of the cards there are three names (of people, streets, books, or movies), which guide Ed to people, who need his help. Eventually the boy sets on a journey throughout town to discover who these people are and why on earth might they need the help of a complete loser like him. From reviving a local church to helping a girl with her running routine and illuminating the Christmas for a poor family, Ed becomes a sort of guarding angel for the less fortunate.
I Am the Messenger sounds like a cheesy feel-good novel of the sorts of Bucay but in fact it is much more than that. First of all, Ed is not really the most likeable character. He is lazy, somewhat annoying and an utter and complete loser. He is hopelessly in love with his best friend Audrey but unfortunately sucks in almost everything related to the nature of love – be it kissing, flirting, or God forbid, sex. As he goes around town trying to help people, he makes mistakes. Sometimes he doesn’t get it the first, or the second time for that matter, sometimes he gets beaten, and sometimes he is just so pathetic that the reader wonders whether it is not Ed who needs help in fact.
I am the Messenger is beautiful in the way it shows some well-known truths that remain forgotten in our daily routine. Human kindness exists and is actually able to transform someone else’s life for the better. The small acts of goodness matter most than the grand gestures. And most importantly, if the loser Ed can actually help others and transform himself for the better, so can almost anyone else.
Markus Zusak gives us a positive tale of transformation. Through helping others, Ed is subconsciously helping himself rebuild his life (however Bucayish this might sound). The plot twist at the end is quite surprising and the happy ending is a must for such a novel. What I liked most, though, is that everything Ed does is quite believable and possible. He doesn’t have superpowers, he doesn’t go out of the ordinary to assist others, he simply does what each and every person can do this instant. Zusak reminds us that you don’t have to have a lot in order to give back. You just need eagerness to do so. Come to think about it, this is a lot for most people.
More from Markus Zusak:
Only in today’s sick society can a man be persecuted for reading too many books.
Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.