Book: Markus Zusak. I Am The Messenger. New York: Random House, 2002.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Audience: Grades 9-12 (and up)
Read-Aloud: I loved this book
Summary: Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old boy who still hasn’t left the town that he was born it. He’s a dead-beat kid who lives alone with his dog the Doorman, who drives a cab to pay for his beat-up apartment, and who plays cards with his three friends every now and then. His life changes one day after he stops a blundered bank robbery and becomes known as a hero. It’s then that he starts to receive playing cards in the mail, each one detailing somebody who’s life he needs to enter and improve and in the process, improve himself. At first it is his search for answers as to who is sending him the cards that drives him to help the people on the cards, but as the story develops he starts to help the people with a genuine passion and willingness to do good. All of the events and people mentioned in the story come together at the end and create a beautiful and thought-provoking halt to the novel that really hit home the message that the story is meant to impart.
Themes: The largest theme in this novel is by far the theme of humanity. The everyday struggles of Ed, his friends, and the individuals that he is charged to save practically ooze from every corner of the novel. Ed helps the poor, the rich, the kind, the violent, the lonely, the desperate, the happy, the melancholy, the loveless, and the loved. Throughout the novel, each person that he helps also serves to improve him as a human being, which can be seen in another theme in the novel, which is that of self-reflection.
Considering that the novel is written from Ed’s point of view, one would already expect some self-reflection, but the novel goes far beyond average reflection. With each passing moment and person that he helps Ed is constantly reflecting on who he is and who he is becoming with each card that he completes. If one examines Ed at the beginning of the novel and compares him to himself at later points of the novel, one can observes noticeable differences in his character as well as new-found levels of maturity.
Connections: I would certainly use this novel as a primary text in a classroom as it is a little longer than some young adult novels, but it also deals with issues that are especially poignant to students moving into the world outside of school and into society. This novel deals with a plethora of issues that could be mirrored in other novels out in the world, and I think it would be a great idea to pair the books with other novels that deal with issues that could be seen with each person that Ed helps. For example, one could use the novel Bastard Out of Carolina, a nonfiction novel that deals with child molestation/abuse and people’s willingness to look the other way, to delve deeper into the issues that Ed encounters on Edgar Street with the husband who drunkenly rapes his wife most every night. A unit like this would help students to gain a deeper understanding of how society works sometimes, and how their generation can work to maintain or fix it.
Reaction: This definitely one of the best novels, young adult or otherwise, that I have had the pleasure of reading. I love the style the story is written in, the characters, the delicate attention to details, the settings, the conversations and dialogues, the witty humor, and the various messages that the reader is made aware of throughout the novel. The intense introspection with which Ed views his life is not only a pleasure to read, but it also serves as an intricate instrument to fully explain and elaborate upon each and every emotion and thought that Ed is experiencing. He is probably one of the most fleshed out protagonists that I have ever read in a story, and I definitely appreciate that. The author’s attention to the smallest of details sold the novel to me even more, as it helped to really paint exact portraits of what he wanted to describe, which also served to set the moods for the scenes rather well. I would consider getting a tattoo dealing with this novel; that’s how much I liked it.
Reception: A reviewer on Book Harbinger said that: “Not one word is wasted, and the sharpness of his phrases can literally be cutting. Because Ed is chosen to help those who are beaten, poor, sad, and lonely in his missions, I was struck many times by both the words and the hurt. The words he chooses are simple but the way he uses them is profound. Quite suddenly tears wanted to spill or a smile would burst out of me, the emotion dealt was so high. Sometimes it’s the spaces between passages or between words. Zusak is masterful at imbuing words and phrases with meaning through spacing and line changes.”
Another reviewer on teenreads.com said that: “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.”