I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

I was really torn with which book I should choose for the latest meeting of The Riverside Readers which took place last night. We have already covered non-fiction, classics, science fiction, modern literature, translations. As I wanted to choose something different I had three options to my mind which were crime, short stories or young adult. As a genre I have the issues with and like to test myself I opted for the latter and chose ‘I Am The Messenger’, or simply ‘The Messenger’ as it’s known in Australia, by Markus Zusak a book he wrote before the cross-over smash ‘The Book Thief’ (which I loved when I read in my pre-blogging days).

I don’t know if I would have bought ‘I Am The Messenger’ of my own volition if I am honest, though I would definitely read the next book by Markus Zusak, in part because it is deemed as ‘young-adult’ fiction a tag that simply puts me off, but I won’t open that can of worms. However a friend picked it up for me in Australia as they knew I had raved to anyone and everyone about ‘The Book Thief’.

Stuck in a city as an underage cab driver who happens to be hopeless at love and rubbish at sex you might not think that nineteen year old Ed Kennedy, the protagonist of ‘I Am The Messenger’, would be someone who could changes the lives of people but neither would he. In fact if you told him that he could he would probably laugh in your face or possibly tell you to ‘f**k off’ and so would his friends. However everything changes after Ed inadvertently foils a rather incompetent bank robbery.

After this event his name and face is plastered across the newspapers and someone sends him a playing card, the Ace of Diamonds, with addresses written on it and Ed soon realises someone has given him the mission of giving people messages, some they may like and some they might not either way Ed is now in charge of changing the lives of strangers, only the cards keep coming and everything starts to get much closer to home.

Some of the stories were genuinely touching like a tale involving Christmas lights and also a relationship that Ed builds with a wonderful old lady called Milla. The later in particular really made me smile throughout the book and I am not ashamed made me feel a little warm inside.  Some are easy such as giving someone an ice-cream which touches them more than anything else could. Some are dangerous and disturbing such as the case of a man who regularly rapes his wife in a drunken stupor and how to stop him.

I liked how Zusak could take you from something quite humorous to something quite hard hitting within a paragraph or two and yet it never jarred and kept the pace the whole way through (in fact towards the end I felt I was reading a thriller to a degree). I found the characters of Ed and his friends a little two dimensional to begin with but as the book went on they were fleshed out as the plot thickened, that’s all I will say for now, you will spot the love story a mile off though!

What won me round with this book in particular, being a bit of a cynic, was that this book never strayed too far into cheesy territory which could have been an easy move, nor did it preach (I did on several occasions think the book might suddenly gain a religious slant) despite the author clearly having a motive and a message of his own. Though not always subtle and slightly saccarine in parts, Zusak has created a book that can be dark, laugh out loud funny and occasionally quite poignant. 6.5/10

Having now read ‘I Am The Messenger’ I don’t think I would call this a cross-over book, maybe I have become a bit of an early old timer but I wouldn’t want my brother or sister (8 and 12) reading this, mind you they read Twilight so what do I know. It did work for me though and I will definitely be reading whatever he comes out next without question and am really rather keen to read more of his already published works.

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (if you haven’t read it you should)
The Other Hand – Chris Cleave (though if you have read it and hated this book – it’s a marmite number – don’t let that put you off)

And no… I haven’t mentioned today’s general election… yet!


Filed under Book Group, Markus Zusak, Pan MacMillan, Review

23 responses to “I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

  1. Dot

    This sounds good and I loved The Book Thief. I have just started reading more young adult fiction and it has definitely changed, I haven’t decided yet whether I think that this is a good or a bad thing!

    • I think you should just explore whatever reading that you are enjoying and not worry about it Dot. I think I need some whims as I can feel myself getting a little irked by what I have been reading, think a few have disapointed me of late (mainly my own fault am sure).

  2. I couldn’t get a hold of the book but sorry I couldn’t make the discussion; one on YA and cross-over fiction would really interest me.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of The Book Thief… I didn’t cry and thought it was a little pretentious/trying to be too clever.

    Of course I’ve been concocting my next choice and something you have mentioned has me swinging to the side of the pendulum that I thought I had decided against…

    • No worries Claire it was an interesting group as we now seem to have as many men if not more than women which is a twist lol. This was a good book to read and good for discussion as we then discussed the genre as a whole. Thrillers next month which I am most looking forward to.

      Oooh that last part of the comment is such a tease!

  3. Oh Simon there is so much young adult lit out there that you would enjoy – but each to their own. I’d love to see you post about why that tag puts you off by the way.

    I think Zusack is actually being thrust in the YA category because The Book Thief featured a young protagonist, when it’s a very adult, lit fic kind of book (and was originally marketed as such). I’m sure teens would enjoy it, but it wasn’t originally aimed at the young adult market. Sometime, somewhere the marketing got switched and now Zusack gets labelled a young adult author when I really don’t think he is conciously writing for a teenage audience as well as an adult audience(not that there would be anything wrong with him doing that).

    Anyway sounds pretty good from your description, although not sure it will have the same impact as his first book (but then second novels often don’t).

    • I probably would like some, I like the Twilight series after all, I just havent had much success so far. I am sure I will though, I was suprised I didn’t like The Hunger Games.

      I think with The Book Thief being his latest release he might have had the young adult label before that book and has always written crossovers just The Book Thief managed it better than his others. We did think younger males (a hard demographic to reach) would really like this book.

  4. Boy, I sure wish my book club put that much thought into their picks. I don’t often feel that I am in good hands! The book sounds good – I have been convinced many times over that there are many worthy YA books out there that entertain me as well as an adult book!

    • I definitely think that they can entertain like an adult book, I dont know if they can always hit you in the same way as as we get older we get more cynical, well I have hahaha.

  5. I loved The Book Thief – one of my all time favorite reads of his year!! So, I am definitely going to be purchasing I Am The Messenger – it sounds rather intriguing finding out why he was chosen to be a messenger and all of these different types of messages he is told to deliver. Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the review – its good to know that Zusak’s writing is solid throughout his other books.

    • It is intriguing and the mystery really works. That was probably my favourite part of the whole book and would have been more brilliant if the ending hadnt let me down. Don’t read past the final part ‘The Joker’ if you can help it! I definitley want to read more of his books though.

  6. Having loved The Book Thief I’m wanting to read Zusak’s other books – though like you the Young Adult branding is holding me back – so that you liked it is a positive strike in my mind. I also wouldn’t have been expecting the kind of story you’ve described so thanks for dispelling some assumptions! It’s scary how young some of the readers of Twilight are.

    • Charlie I can only recommend from what I have done and just given some young adult fiction a whirl, some are hits and some are misses. This had always put of off reading this book and hence why its languished somewhat on my TBR for a while but am glad I gave it a whirl in the end.

  7. I really like this book! Not quite as much as The Book Thief, but it’s in a very different style. I also have Zusak’s Getting the Girl, but I guess there are two books before that one.. it appears to be part of a series. But I like his writing style.

    • That is something that I meant to say and then completely forgot so thanks for reminding me Aarti. I didn’t mention that this did show that Zusak is certainly diverse in terms of style, plot and premise.

  8. I’m glad I have The Book Thief on my tbr pile. It sounds like I will want to read this one too at some point though. Sounds really interesting.

  9. I need to reread this. I read it shortly after The Book Thief, and I liked it but didn’t love it. But by comparison with The Book Thief, practically anything would suffer. I have to give it another (untainted by the Book Thief) chance and see what I think.

    By the way, thank you for your post recently about Maggie O’Farrell. It made me check out After You’d Gone at the library and I LOVED it.

    • I think reading it so close to The Book Thief would probably have left me colder to it but that is simply because The Book Theif is such an amazing book.

      Glad you enjoyed that O’Farrell I haven’t read it yet but really must!

  10. I’m always a bit surprised when readers try to compare this one to “The Book Thief”, just because they’re so different. I liked “I Am The Messenger”. It was interesting, kind of crazy and has stayed with me for a long time. It’s not at all similar to the truly excellent “The Book Thief” (except maybe a bit of Zusak’s style – the humor, the cynicism, the side-by-side warmness and depression…), but it’s pleasant.

    I do think “I Am The Messenger” is a lot more of a young adult book (much as I hate that label), best suited for ages 13-18. It doesn’t have much broad appeal, but it is quite a bit of fun.

    • They are indeed very different. Its only naturl that, despite sometimes the hardest and best of intentions, we do tend to compare a book to either one we have read in the same genre, by the same author etc, especially when its a book like The Book Thief which is so wonderful (IMHO). I agree that this is a fun book and one that can make you laugh aloud and laugh hard.

  11. I had always thought The Book Thief was published as general fiction in Australia.

    I think people should read what the want to read, myself. Young Adult fiction or whatever. I am not really sure why so many adults read so much Young Adult fiction. What does it do for them that general fiction does not?

    I’m not sure I’d read it if I was not a teacher. I read it now largely to keep up with what my students are reading and so I’ll be able to make good recommendations for them when they ask me what they should read.

    I didn’t “love” The Hunger Games either. It was okay, though.

  12. Kate

    I was heartbroken with this read, though I have to say not because it was good. I read the Book Theif twice and both resulted in the same tidal wave of tears each time. However the Messenger lay far outside heart warming territory. The character where unlikable, the plot unbelievable and unesscary junk tossed in at random. At times I was wondering why I was reading about pies and balaclavas who played NO key in the story. It would have been heartwarming if not for the abhorrent dislike towards the characters. At the end it finished, and I was left thinking how different the transition between the two where, what was with the bank robber at the end, and the passage about his father? It left me confused and I would re-read the book if I managed to leave the horrid disdain for the book behind. have to admit my favourite part was the relations toward the Doorman. The Book Thief left me gripped, I KNEW the characters, I could relate to them. When they all died I felt Liesels’ pain, I grasped it. This book was a torrid downpour of pain and sadness with no joy. I struggled to pull myself through it, but I did, to try and find some of Markus Zusak’s wit and excellent writing at the end, but I didnt.

    Kate -14

  13. Bondsy 1

    In Australia Markus is known as a YA writer- and he is one of the best. As a teacher I have read Zusak books to kids who are tough and mean and hate books. I have seen their faces as they fall in love with his books. The Book Theif was a departure for him and I adored it. Can I suggest you check out ‘When Dogs Cry’ and ‘Fighting Ruben Wolf’ these are both YA but they are beyond beautiful, honest and grim.

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