I Am the Messenger (Zusak) - Book Reviews

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

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