07 July 2007

Book Review: "I Am The Messenger"

Ed Kennedy, the main character of this young adult novel, is an unlikely choice for a hero. He is a 19-year-old stuck in a dead-end job with no apparent desire to make a change.

He lives in a shack with a stinky dog that he inherited from his father, an alcoholic who died recently. Ed spends his free time playing cards with friends who also seem to lack motivation. He has no love life to speak of, unless you count his hopeless pining for his best friend Audrey. Yet the role of hero is thrust upon Ed when he happens to stop a bank robbery. A mysterious entity notices him and that's when the cryptic assignments start arriving, written on aces pulled from a deck of cards.

Given the setting, this story could have been depressing. Thankfully, it wasn't. Ed's relationships with his friends are the kind that many of us have had at one time or another. As long as everyone shows up to play cards at the appointed time, he doesn't ask too many questions. The snippy exchanges between Ed and his mother ring true, as well. She yells, he accepts it. She's always been that way, so he just overlooks it. Ed knows his life isn't great, but he isn't exactly wallowing in self-pity.

The tasks that Ed is given range from sweet to scary to heartbreaking. The author makes the lesson in each task clear to the reader without being preachy. There is a twist to the ending that may seem frustrating at first, but it becomes more satisfying the longer you sit with it.

This was Mr. Zusak's debut novel and it was originally published in his native Australia in 2002. There is a bit of Australian slang in the book but it isn't too difficult to figure out the meaning from the context. The writing style is conversational; I could hear Ed talking in my head and it flowed naturally.

This novel won the Book of the Year Award from the Children's Book Council of Australia in 2003. I do have to warn parents, though, that this is more of a teen or young-adult book than a children's book. There is one scene in particular that might be frightening to a young girl. There is also some talk of sex that, while not graphic, is certainly frank enough that I wouldn't hand the book to my 14-year-old daughter without being able to discuss it with her.

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