Book: Zusak, Markus. I am the Messenger. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: 10th – 12th
Summary: Ed Kennedy is a 19 year old cab driver who has fallen into stagnant waters throughout his life. The girl he likes just considers him to be her best friend, his friends are low lifes as well, and, most importantly, Ed has absolutely no purpose in life other than to take care of his friendly aging dog, the Doorman. However, Ed’s life just took a turn for the surreal- he has unexpectedly become the hero of a bank robbery. Afterwards, Ed’s celebrity status causes him to start receiving playing cards within the mail that have names upon them- names that need helping. Although Ed is slow going, he slowly starts making his way through the various cards, delivering specific messages to each different card. However the question Ed can’t figure out is- who is sending these cards? And more importantly, what message is Ed supposed to receive?
Themes: The first theme would be Purpose. All throughout the book, Ed and his friends are without purpose, floating through life playing cards and having drinks. However, they all seem to be running away from what they are really supposed to be doing in life- as do many of the people that Ed visits. It certainly is a coming of age novel, as one of the most important things that a person must decide when they become an adult is what their purpose is in life.
Another theme would be Personal Responsibility. In the beginning of the story, Ed is a very self centered type of guy. Everyone in the book doesn’t have a care in the world that doesn’t relate directly to themselves. The cards present the question to Ed and the readers of this book the question of “Are we really able to go through life and not be held responsible for what goes on around us?” I think that our Western culture, outside of politics and global issues, we really try to ignore the people around us- we don’t feel responsible for the events that happen to our neighbors, especially if they are psychological and not physical violence.
The last theme of the book would probably be Loneliness. Throughout the whole book the characters all interact with one another, however none of them are honest with each other till the end. They live their lives surrounded by people left and right, however there is a ton of distrust amongst the friends. I think this is a very accurate portrayal of who we are as a culture and how stupid it really is. Ed goes through all of these adventures, just to realize that the real issues are the ones that were always facing him- his friends and their pain.
Connections: I think that this book is very relevant to students today. Talking to students about the multiple themes that the book presents will provoke thought into issues that usually get thrown under the rug. Talking about purpose in our own lives is something that most High Schools beat around the bush with- however everyone is thinking about it. Getting students to write about and or discuss these issues is needed, and I think very approachable with students as well.
Reactions: I personally loved the book. I could relate a lot to Ed and his desire to have a purpose laid out for him. I enjoyed the style of reading, although I think that in order to understand the whole purpose/responsibility themes, I think that an upperclassman would understand them the best. I liked the various situations that Ed got himself into, although I must say that the Audrey was starting to annoy me in the end. Her character development felt… orchestrated. The rest were just fine. I enjoyed Marv’s revelation. I really liked The Doorman- stinky dogs are really relatable.
Reception: ‘Good books entertain; great books tip your world ever so slightly. Don’t be surprised if reading I AM THE MESSENGER shifts your perspective on your own life. The story is so good that it breaks your heart (I suspect I’ve just finished my favorite book of 2005). But don’t take just my word for it — I AM THE MESSENGER won the 2003 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Award.’- Terry Miller Shannon on TeenReads.com
‘While this novel is deemed as YA fiction, I had no idea that that’s what it was. I requested it from the library online, so never saw which part of the library it came from. I would never have known except for the author’s bio on the back that described it as such. It would definitely be for older YA readers, however, since some of the content involves beatings, a rape, and sexual content.’- LiterallyBooked.blogspot.com
‘Without taking away from the literary qualities of The Book Thief, which deserves all the praise it receives, I honestly enjoyed I Am the Messenger more. A couple of scenes towards the end left me shaking my head, but otherwise I Am the Messenger is a creative, quirky, outstanding YA novel that will make you laugh, cry and think as only the best books do.’- BookHarbringer.com