I Am the Messenger
by Markus Zusak
Published: May 9, 2006
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: eBook (360 pages)
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.
That's when Ed becomes the messenger.
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?
I was inspired by the main character Ed’s very normal life. Maybe normal is too nice a word. His life is more mediocre. He doesn’t have any ambitions or achievements or direction really. The story is about him receiving anonymous cards in the mail that challenge him to help people. He changes their lives in small and big ways just by being observant. It made me want to observe and serve others more. If an ordinary guy can help in small ways, then so can I.
After reading I Am The Messenger, I got that chance.
I saw a guy shopping for baby formula at the grocery store. He would look at a can of baby formula for a minute and put it back. Then he’d look at another can. Then he’d put it back. I found this strange and fascinating. Most people quickly dump 8 cans of the exact same formula in their shopping cart and hurry off. I have never seen someone compare types of baby formula so carefully.
This guy was taking his time for some reason. I continued to watch him (he didn’t notice because he was now scrutinizing a fifth can of formula) and tried to figure out what situtation would make someone shop for formula like that. He must never have bought it before. Maybe he has a wife at home with a screaming newborn baby and was instructed to “get formula” only to find the grocery store has 473829 kinds. And now he doesn’t know what kind to get. So I went up to him and helped explain the difference between the 439280 kinds of formula and gave him a coupon. He seemed grateful. I imagined him going home to his wife victorious because he’d gotten the right formula AND used a coupon.
It’s not life changing or anything. That being said, Ed didn’t feel like he was doing anything life changing either.
It’s not a big thing, but I guess it’s true— big things are often just small things that are noticed.
-Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger (p. 221).
But it reminded me that kindness, true kindness, comes from listening and observing others to see what they really need. Small acts of kindness are big in their own way.
The reason this story works is because it’s crude, crass, biting, sarcastic, and full of swearing. Let me explain. The writing hides the preachiness of the story so well that I really enjoyed reading it and it wasn’t until the end that I realized I learned something. I’m not saying something has to be crude for you to learn something. But hiding a story about serving others in a crude story might accidentally teach someone something when all they had really intended was to pick up an entertaining book. Making it a little crude can also make the story relatable so you close the book feeling like the character did things that you are more than capable of doing, too.
There were some parts of the writing that I found so beautiful. Here’s one of my favorite quotes. I just love how Markus Zusak takes a cliche saying and switches the words around to paint a lovely picture:
Quietly, Marv cries.
His hands appear to be dripping on the wheel. The tears grip his face. They hold on and slide reluctantly for his throat.
-Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger (p. 316).
I like that the tears grip his face instead of his hands gripping the wheel. But I can still imagine the image of tears gripping his face like he’s trying so hard not to cry but he can’t help it. I find it so beautiful for some reason.
The twist at the end did confuse me. View Spoiler »Who is the messenger? My book club helped me figure it out. The character is the message about serving others and the author is the messenger because he made up the story. Right?? « Hide Spoiler
Ed’s friend has a crappy car and he keeps calling it a Falcon. I’ve never heard of that kind of car so I couldn’t get this image out of my head:
The Millenium Falcon IS crappy so I just imagined that.
Do you think kindness comes from observing others to see what they need?
I like observing people. I often stare longer than is socially acceptable because I learn a lot just from watching people. I think it’s an introverted thing. Since I already observe people, why did it never occur to me to use my observations and help if I can? I’m not sure. But I would like to try more often in my life to help others.
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