Zuzak, Marcus. I Am the Messenger. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005. 368 pages. Tr., $16.95. 978-0375830990
Plot: Hapless Ed Kennedy -- an aimless and lovelorn underage cabdriver with a huge, slobbery dog -- inadvertently gets in the middle of a bank robbery, after which he begins to receive cards in the mail. The cards, sent by a mysterious hand, at first contain addresses, so Ed, with nothing better to do, goes to the places and soon realizes that he is being called to do something at each one. What exactly he must do is something he must figure out on his own. Passive Ed, whose own mother has little faith left in him, has to act.
Eventually, the plot thickens and draws in his best friends, including the love of his life, who seems quite happy to date pretty much everyone but Ed.
The larger mystery of the book is who is sending the cards, which Ed tries to answer as he carries out his occasionally dangerous missions. The answer is a shock that few will have predicted.
Critical Evaluation: Filled with mystery and hope, this is a book about a passive young man who is forced to act in a series of heroic ways. Readers will be unraveling each little mystery – What is Ed supposed to do here? – while the overarching mystery of who is sending Ed on these missions will keep them on the edge of their seats until the end.
Zuzak’s mastery is evident in with the complicated yet repetitive plotting of this story, which provides enough structure that it doesn’t confuse. His character development has depth and richness to it; Ed responds to each event in unusual ways. This is a book that is, at turns, humorous, scary, and full of meaning about friendship and life.
Reader’s Annotation: When underage cabdriver Ed Kennedy catches a bank robber, someone sends him messages that push him to help complete strangers, but he still can’t solve the biggest mystery: Who is sending the cards?
Author bio: Australian Marcus Zusak has written a number of respected YA books, including the Printz Award-winning Messenger, the lauded The Book Thief, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl. He lives in Sydney.
He is inspired by his family’s stories about living in Germany during World War II, surfing, and watching movies repeatedly as he’s working on a story. He origninally wanted to be a house painter like his father, until he found that he was always painting himself “into a corner.”
Curriculum Ties: California Content Standards: Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.2 Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.
3.3 Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, the author’s style, and the “sound” of language achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes or both.
Ask questions of the audience:
You are caught in a bank robbery, what do you do?
You are at home, incredibly bored, and you get a mysterious card in the mail with an address on it. You assume the person who sent the card wants you to go to the address. Would you go? Why or why not? What might you find? Why is the person sending the card??
Reading Level: fifth grade
Interest Age: ninth grade and up, but more appropriate for eleventh grade
Challenge Issues: Intense scenes, violence, sexual references, language.
Challenge Response: Focus on the message of the book – be familiar with it. Be armed with quotes that support the issue of values and friendship that make the book a rich experience. Have reviews such as this handy: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/markus-zusak/i-am-the-messenger/#review
Why Included: This book has been recommended highly by several respected young adult experts and it won a Printz Award.