In honor of my birthday, I decided to talk about my favorite book: I Am the Messenger by the fabulous Markus Zusak. You may know him as the author behind The Book Thief, which has been sneaking its way onto required reading lists over the past few years and that excites me, or from one of his earlier works (which I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading but they’re on my Nook!). Thief has actually become the stand-out Zusak novel, probably because of its historical context, but I will always prefer Messenger because I read it first and it moved me to tears.
I know! How often can you say that about a book?
It’s because of this that Messenger was the first book to ever officially be my FAVORITE. As a bibliophage — “bookworm” for those not in the know — I never felt comfortable saying I had a favorite book because everything I read had merits in its own right, and who was I to say that one was better than another? But when I read Messenger, I think around 2006, it hit me hard. I vividly remember the night I finished it; I was lying in bed and when I closed the book, my heart swelled and, yeah, I cried a little. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bawling or anything, but I was truly moved.
That probably sounds like overkill, but I think it’s appropriate context for you to understand why I want you to read this book!! Do it! Don’t even read the rest of this post! Just go get it!
Okay… Maybe read the rest of this post, but trust me. A-mah-zing.
To loosely describe the book: Main character Ed Kennedy is chosen for a special mission after his unexpected foiling of a bank robbery. He begins receiving aces in the mail and with each ace comes a new challenge. Though these challenges may break him at first, they will ultimately bring out the best in him and hopefully everyone around him.
The plot is one reason why I love the book. The twists, turns, and unavoidable hi-jinks that occur during Ed’s journey are hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I would definitely say that the second half of the book holds the best of the plot because everything comes to a crescendo and the surprise at the end is something I think is really interesting. It’s not something that’s never happened before, but I honestly wasn’t expecting it so I fully support it.
Of course, the fun thing about the plot is just watching Ed grow from this nothing teenage taxi driver into a more sensitive and aware grown-up. I mean, obviously this situation isn’t going to fix every single one of his problems; that would be ridiculous and hard to accept. He’s got a lot of family drama going on and though he may not always handle it in the best way possible (because how many of us can say that we do?), he at least garners a little more understanding for his position. I don’t know. I think it’s great!
However, the plot is not my favorite thing about this book. The best thing about I Am the Messenger, the reason that I urge you to pick up this book if you have never read it, is the way that Zusak writes. There is something about it that speaks to me… It also makes me insanely jealous! Everything that comes out of Zusak’s brain, I wish it had come out of mine! I often find myself trying to emulate him whenever I’m attempting my own sad version of writing. Naturally, it’s almost impossible because I am not him…
Zusak’s writing style has a a literary quality that is still easy to relate to. There are times when it’s so obvious that Ed is a clueless teenager, wandering his way through life on the search for some semblance of meaning, then there are times when the mission is clearly shaping him into a new person. I’m going to provide you with a couple of my favorite examples (that don’t give away any major plot points).
“My full name’s Ed Kennedy. I’m nineteen. I’m an underage cabdriver. I’m typical of many of the young men you see in the suburban outpost of the city–not a whole lot of prospects or possibility. That aside, I read more books than I should, and I’m decidedly crap at sex and doing my taxes. Nice to meet you.” (Page 6)
“I think she ate a salad and some soup.
She ate that, too.” (Page 47)
“In the end, I think he gives up on words. He only steps forward, places his hands on my shoulders, and looks very seriously into my eyes. I can see the feeling shifting the skin on his face. He contorts in a very peaceful, very holy way. I think it’s the first chance in a long time the father’s had to say thank you. […] I think that’s why his expression is so stranded and why the recognition on his face stumbles in its attempt to reach me.” (Pages 164 and 165)
“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.” (Page 224)
“Even from far away, I can see that Marv has tears on his face as clear as glass. Marv’s smile and the giant glass tears on his face are two of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” (Pages 329 and 330)
I think those are pretty good examples. You’re welcome!
Finally, I love this book because of its dedication to theme. The book is divided into sections, one for each suit in a deck of cards (the first page, a copy of the ace he receives in the mail) and a final section fronted by a Joker card. Inside the first four sections, each little chapter is “numbered” with the order of cards in a suit (started with 2 and ending with K). Adorable, right? It’s the little things like this that make me savor every moment I’m reading this book. There’s so much care in making sure that we are taking this journey along with Ed. I even wrote a paper about this book freshman year of college and this aspect of it played a big role in it. (I got an A, by the way. Boom.)
I don’t know. There’s really not much more I can say because you just need to read this book right now! Read it now and you’ll understand what I’m saying or you’ll form your own opinion and we can have a dialogue about that.
I think this book is great for people who are feeling a little low or like they are stranded in a life they don’t have the strength to break out of. If Ed, seemingly beyond average, can rise to the challenges presented to him in this knowledge, then, just maybe, everyone in the real world has the opportunity to be better than they are.
So read it.