My friends are startlingly skeptical of my reading habits. And that’s a good thing, because it pushes my comfort zone and sometimes knocks me out of a rut. The friend who looks like Matt Damon (you remember, I mentioned him in this post?) asked me the other day to name one book I’d read recently that ‘could actually happen.’ What he wanted to know is if I ever read any realistic fiction (this is a valid question when you look through my blog over the last couple of months). I am slightly ashamed to say that I couldn’t think of any titles on the spot.
But I’d heard marvelous things about I Am the Messenger from both The O.W.L. Review and Persnickety Snark recently, so I decided to bump that selection up the TBR pile and try my hand at something not fantastical. Ha. Was I wrong, or what? It’s not that it’s not realistic fiction, because it is. It’s just that Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, is such a skilled writer and storyteller that his tales seem magical, regardless of the absence of any so-called fantastical elements.
I Am the Messenger is a mad dash into adventure, and a lesson in hope and despair. It features a disgustingly ordinary young man who discovers a mission to do something for someone. Well, it’s more like he’s forced into the mission. But it changes his life. So who is behind this plot, and what does it all mean for those living their lives on the brink? And better yet, what does it mean for our hero?
Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger…
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission? Winner of the 2006 Printz honor, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.
Ed sounds slightly absurd, right? And his situation is. But at its heart, this tale is about someone ordinary, with an ordinary/strange life, discovering himself and viewing those around him in a new light. It’s got poignant moments. It’s also got absolutely gorgeous and gutting prose. And it lays out the brutal, gritty truth that humans have both potential for good and for harm.
But Ed isn’t the only character on the scene. Ed’s dog (yes, the one addicted to coffee) has his own persona. And the memorable people that Ed comes into contact with, from his friends to his mysterious foes, are by turns interesting, sweet, sinister and heart-wrenchingly honest. These co-adventurers are what make this book tick. Zusak weaves vignettes of lives in need into the greater narrative with humor and care, and the result reads like genius.
Recommended for: fans of literary fiction (yes, I promise you’ll like it!), YA realism, zany adventures, coming-of-age stories and mysteries. Also? For all of us who wonder if one ‘good deed’ can truly change a life.