If I were to gift this book to someone, I would wrap it in brown paper and tell them not to look at the name of the author until they were done. Not that knowing who the author is has biased my opinion in anyway – in fact, the author is the only reason why I bought I Am the Messenger in the first place. But it is inevitable that you will compare it to The Book Thief, whether you want to or not (assuming that the world and even martians have read The Book Thief). This isn’t a bad thing, because I Am the Messenger does superbly on its own. However, it would simply be better to not have the spectacularly successful The Book Thief colour your experience even by the lightest shade.
Summary: I Am the Messenger is the story of Ed Kennedy, an underage cab driver who stops a bank robbery. In Ed Kennedy’s words, the gunman is useless. Ed isn’t very ambitious and doesn’t have a lot going on in life. He lives with an old dog, the Doorman, who stinks like he’s dead, and drinks a lot of coffee. His mother hates him and doesn’t pretend otherwise. He has three friends, Marv Harris, Ritchie Sanchez and Audrey, with whom he spends his spare time playing cards. He is hopelessly in love with Audrey, but she does not let herself love anyone. Soon after the attempted bank robbery, Ed starts getting aces in the mail. The first one – the ace of diamonds – has three addresses listed. He visits each of them. He finds a woman who is raped by her husband every night, while her young daughter cowers and cries; an old widow who misses her husband, but has no memory of losing him; a sprinter who goes for a practice run every morning, but always loses on the field. Ed realizes he has to help these people, but has no idea how. And that’s just the first of the aces.
Anyone who is familiar with Zusak’s work knows his prose is near-lyrical. The prose is something you can taste, something that sits well on your tongue, and melts. He breaks sentences into several short phrases – not everyone is fond of this technique, but it gives an impact to the simplest of sentences [aside: this is a technique I’d employed for one of my own short stories (well before I read Zusak’s work). The editor of the book I’d submitted the story to combined it all to form one long sentence. Boy, did that piss me off!]. There are moments when the scenes tug at your heart, in a good way. You know that feeling you get when you read the positive stories on HONY? That’s how you feel when you read this book.
The best part is, no matter how many books you’ve read in the past, believe me when I say this, you have never read anything like this. It’s unique, moving, and beautiful.
To summarize, let me tweak a few lines from the book:
Sometimes, books are beautiful
Not just in their prose.
Not even in how they end.
Just in what they are.*