After reading The Book Thief (reviewed here), I simply had to read Markus Zusak's earlier novel, I Am the Messenger. Messenger is the story of Ed Kennedy, an underage slacker cab driver who is selected for a mysterious mission to help others. Ed's story begins when he steps outside of his ordinary life to participate in foiling a bank robbery (against a singularly pathetic bank robber). His 15 minutes of fame are followed by receipt of a mysterious ace of diamonds in the mail, inscribed with three addresses. Visiting the addresses, Ed finds three people who need help, his help, in various ways. In essence, these people need someone to care about them, and help them through some particular situation.
Despite being something of a loser overall (dead-end job, a falling down apartment, no education, a hopeless crush on his best friend, a strained relationship with his mother), Ed rises to the challenge of his mission. The first card is followed by others. In addition to the people who need help, Ed encounters mysterious thugs and finds that the unknown person sending him on these missions is watching his every move. The mystery of who is behind Ed's missions remains.
I found in this book flashes of the same gift with language that I loved in The Book Thief. Zusak frequently uses short, single-paragraph sentences that are almost poems. For example:
"You can kill a man with those words.
Just words and a girl."
"Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are."
I also thought that this book contained some excellent food for thought about caring for other people, and the difference that one person can make in other people's lives. However, I didn't find I Am the Messenger nearly as compelling as The Book Thief in its story. I also found the ending to be a bit anti-climactic. I think that the overall problem that I had with the book was that I didn't particularly want to identify with Ed and his dead-end friends. I didn't care about them in the way that I cared about Liesel in The Book Thief. And the people that Ed helped floated in and out of the story relatively quickly, so there wasn't time to care about them very much, either.
I Am the Messenger was a Printz Honor Book in 2006. I think that it deserves the award for its use of language, and its unusual and positive message. However, I didn't love it the way that I loved The Book Thief. Perhaps this comparison is unfair, since I consider The Book Thief to be one of the very best books that I've read, and I Am the Messenger is an earlier novel by the author. But that's my take-home message nevertheless.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.