I Am the Messenger (Zusak)

I Am the Messenger
Markus Zusak, 2002
Random House Children's Books
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375836671

Winner, 2003 Book of the Year Award for Older Readers—Australian Children's Book Council

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 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year-old cab driver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Sydney, Australia
Awards—Michael L. Printz Honor, 2006 and 2007; Kathleen Mitchell Award, 2006; Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award, 2003
Currently—lives in Sydney

Australian author Markus Zusak grew up hearing stories about Nazi Germany, about the bombing of Munich and about Jews being marched through his mother’s small, German town. He always knew it was a story he wanted to tell.

"We have these images of the straight-marching lines of boys and the ‘Heil Hitlers’ and this idea that everyone in Germany was in it together. But there still were rebellious children and people who didn’t follow the rules and people who hid Jews and other people in their houses. So there’s another side to Nazi Germany,” said Zusak in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

By the age of 30, Zusak had already asserted himself as one of the most innovative and poetic novelists around. After publication of The Book Thief, he was dubbed a"literary phenomenon" by Australian and U.S. critics. In 2018 he published Bridge of Clay, also to wide acclaim.

Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a 2006 Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. He lives in Sydney. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Ed Kennedy, a hapless 19-year-old Australian cab driver, has a life that's going nowhere until he manages to foil a bank robbery. After this incident he starts to receive mysterious messages, written on playing cards, that send him to addresses where people need help: to a house where a husband comes home drunk every night and rapes his wife; to a home where a sweet if senile old woman is lonely and missing her dead husband; to the aid of a teenage runner who lacks confidence; to a church that needs a congregation. In the end, Ed is even sent to fix his friends' lives, and in the process of helping others discovers that he has now become "full of purpose rather than incompetence." But who is sending these messages to him, and why? The answer is surprising (though not entirely credible, I thought), but it's the journey, and Ed's narration, that will delight the reader, and perhaps provoke some thought, too, about the value of helping others. Originally published in Australia as The Messenger, this novel by the gifted young author of Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting the Girl received the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Award. Told in the present tense by Ed, it's funny, engrossing, and suspenseful, and it will appeal to a wide audience. (Winner of the ALA Printz Award for Excellence.) —Paula Rohrlick

It is no wonder that Zusak's wild ride of a novel won the Children's Book Council of Australia 2003 Book of the Year for Older Readers and the Ethel Turner Prize in the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards for 2003. This dense literary novel is heavy on plotting, secondary characters (including a great dog named The Doorman), and belated coming-of-age anguish, all pulled together with the dazzling first person, sometimes sentence-fragmented voice of Ed Kennedy. Nineteen-year-old Ed is a cabbie who seems more a passenger in life than a participant. After foiling a robbery, Ed gets his fifteen minutes of fame, and then the first card arrives. Ed receives playing cards, four aces and a joker, that contain an address or a clue to an address at which Ed will find a person in need. These situations vary, from a harried mother who merely needs an ice cream to a priest who needs his church filled to a brutal husband who needs to be killed, but in each case, Ed must figure out the message that he is called upon to deliver or the need he must fill. It is a book of small riddles and minor triumphs but also of crushing disappointment as the messages get closer to Ed's broken past and his loveable yet lacking friends. Although the curtain pulling at the book's finale is more of a whimper than a bang, Ed's journey into secret lives is so emotional and intellectually challenging that older readers will enjoy the trip. —Patrick Jones

Gr 9 Up-Nineteen-year-old cabbie Ed Kennedy has little in life to be proud of: his dad died of alcoholism, and he and his mom have few prospects for success. He has little to do except share a run-down apartment with his faithful yet smelly dog, drive his taxi, and play cards and drink with his amiable yet similarly washed-up friends. Then, after he stops a bank robbery, Ed begins receiving anonymous messages marked in code on playing cards in the mail, and almost immediately his life begins to swerve off its beaten-down path. Usually the messages instruct him to be at a certain address at a certain time. So with nothing to lose, Ed embarks on a series of missions as random as a toss of dice: sometimes daredevil, sometimes heartwarmingly safe. He rescues a woman from nightly rape by her husband. He brings a congregation to an abandoned parish. The ease with which he achieves results vacillates between facile and dangerous, and Ed's search for meaning drives him to complete every task. But the true driving force behind the novel itself is readers' knowledge that behind every turn looms the unknown presence-either good or evil-of the person or persons sending the messages. Zusak's characters, styling, and conversations are believably unpretentious, well conceived, and appropriately raw. Together, these key elements fuse into an enigmatically dark, almost film-noir atmosphere where unknowingly lost Ed Kennedy stumbles onto a mystery-or series of mysteries-that could very well make or break his life. —Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library
School Library Journal

(Starred review). Ed is a 19-year-old loser...[whose] life begins to change after he acts heroically during a robbery.... But as much as he changes those who come into his life, he changes himself more.... As for the ending, however, Zusak is too clever by half. He offers too few nuts-and-bolts details before wrapping things up with an unexpected, somewhat unsatisfying recasting of the narrative. Happily, that doesn't diminish the life-affirming intricacies that come before (Gr. 9-12.) —Ilene Cooper

In this winner of the Australian Children's Book Award for Older Readers, 19-year-old Ed Kennedy slouches through life driving a taxi, playing poker with his buddies, and hanging out with his personable dog, Doorman. The girl he loves just wants to be friends, and his mother constantly insults him, both of which make Ed, an engaging, warm-hearted narrator, feel like a loser. But he starts to overcome his low self-esteem when he foils a bank robbery and then receives a series of messages that lead him to do good deeds. He buys Christmas lights for a poor family, helps a local priest, and forces a rapist out of town. With each act, he feels better about himself and builds a community of friends. The openly sentimental elements are balanced by swearing, some drinking and violence, and edgy friendships. Suspense builds about who is sending the messages, but readers hoping for a satisfying solution to that mystery will be disappointed. Those, however, who like to speculate about the nature of fiction, might enjoy the unlikely, even gimmicky, conclusion.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. There are many ironies in Ed Kennedy’s life. One is in the name of the company for which he works—Vacant Taxi Company. What is “vacant” in Ed’s life? Explain the irony in Audrey’s statement, “You used to just be.... Now you’re somebody, Ed.” (p. 232) Discuss how Ed resolves the ironies in his life.

2. Describe Ed’s family. Explain what his mother means when she says, “Believe it or not—it takes a lot of love to hate you like this.” (p. 245) Ed’s mother says that his father promised to take her away. She resents the fact that he never did. Debate whether his mother is simply looking for someone to blame for her unhappiness. How is Audrey’s family similar to Ed’s family?

3. Discuss Ed and Audrey’s relationship. Audrey says that she likes Ed too much to have sex with him, and he says that he wants more than sex from her. Why does Audrey think that sex would ruin their relationship? What does Ed want from Audrey? It is obvious that Audrey is having sex with other guys. How does her attitude toward casual sex indicate disrespect for herself? Ed eventually learns that Audrey is in love with him. Why is she reluctant to reveal her love for him? What might Ed offer her at the end of the novel that he was incapable of offering in the beginning?

4. Ed and his friends are in a bank when it is robbed. Debate whether Ed is in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.

5. After the robbery, Ed begins receiving the cards in the mail. Explain how Ed knows that each mission he is handed is serious business.

6. One of Ed’s first messages is to soothe Milla Johnson’s loneliness by posing as her deceased husband. How does this experience show Ed the real meaning of love? Then, Ed delivers a message to Sophie, the barefoot runner. Explain the courage that Ed learns from Sophie. What does Ed learn from each of the twelve messages that he delivers? How is each mission a lesson for the heart?

7. There are times when self-hatred is almost debilitating to Ed. Who is most responsible for his poor self-concept? How do the cards help Ed gain a more positive sense of self? Explain how Ed is both the messenger and the message. How does this support the theory that by helping others, a person helps himself? What does Ed mean when he says, “If I ever leave this place, I’ll make sure I’m better here first?” (p. 283)

8. Ed says, “I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means that you need life in your life.” (p. 298) How do the missions slowly put “life” in Ed’s life? Think about the words that each of the characters might offer Ed by the end of the novel.

9. Some readers like open endings, and others like distinct conclusions. What is your preference? Why do you think the author ended the novel the way he did? Make a case for both types f endings.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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