Fiction – paperback; Alfred A. Knopf; 357 pages; 2005.
I Am The Messenger is a young adult novel written by Markus Zusak, the Australian author who went on to achieve commercial success and international acclaim with his next book, The Book Thief.
The story is told in first person by 19-year-old Ed Kennedy, who lives with a big smelly brute of a dog in a rundown Sydney suburb. He drives a taxi for a living and has a small circle of friends with whom he plays cards and drinks beer. He is in love with his best friend, Audrey, but doesn’t feel confident enough to tell her of his true feelings. Indeed, Ed’s a bit of a lost cause. His alcoholic father died a year ago, and now he’s being constantly harangued on the phone by his potty-mouthed mother, who favours his more successful siblings over him.
But in the book’s opening pages, Ed accidentally foils a bank robbery and his life takes a different tack. No sooner is he in all the papers, being hailed as a hero, than he receives a playing card in the post. There’s three addresses written on it. When he works up the courage to visit the first address, secretly observing the people who live there, he realises he has been given a mission: he is now a messenger sent to help people less fortunate than himself.
This sets up a bizarre chain of events in which Ed receives more cards, with more cryptic clues. This mission brings him in contact with a vast array of people, including a religious priest, a teenage athlete and a single-mother raising three kids on her own.
It’s quite a page-turning read, because ultimately you want to know who’s behind Ed’s mission. Sadly, the ending is rather manipulative, but I suspect young readers, far less cynical than me, would find it mind-boggingly clever!
If you can forgive the small forays into schmaltz, this is a fast and entertaining read. Zusak deftly lightens tragedy with dark humour and charts a young man’s personal growth without being too obvious. If you like young adult fiction, you’ll find much to enjoy here.
Note that the book was published in Australia under the title The Messenger.