I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when a wonderful literary friend (who is also a children’s literature expert, professor, and recent judge for one of those major book awards) remarked that in Markus Zusak‘s native Australia, this and his unforgettable The Book Thief were initially not released as children’s titles. Definitely an ‘aha!’-moment, as both deal with difficult, wrenching subjects, but certain passages in Messenger contain more graphic sex and violence that seem better suited for older readers. Age-appropriate suggestions aside, both Zusak books are insistently recommended, neither should be missed.
“The gunman is useless,” Messenger begins. The narrator, Ed Kennedy, and his “best mate” Marvin are lying facedown on the floor of a bank, wishing the gunman would just hurry up; Marv’s most worried about getting a parking ticket. Ed – 19, an “underage cabdriver,” an underachieving bibliophile who’s “read more books than I should” – manages to inadvertently foil the gunman and become a local hero.
Ed is what you might call a slacker, whose life thus far amounts to a self-described “[n]othing.” He rents a cheap shack he shares with an ancient dog named Doorman. His gentle (alcoholic) father is six months gone, his mother is angry and bitter, his siblings scattered and uninvolved. He spends most of his free time with Marv and their other friend Ritchie. He pines endlessly for damaged Audrey who has replaced love with too much casual sex, but never with Ed because she actually cares for him. Then Ed gets the first message: “It changes everything.”
The Ace of Diamonds arrives with Ed’s junk mail, with three addresses scrawled across the card. One after the other, three more Ace cards will follow, each suit with a set of different clues – a single phrase, dead writers, and film titles. Card by card, Ed’s got multiple messages to decipher and deliver, including to an elderly woman still mourning her husband killed in action decades earlier, to a devoted priest trying to keep his slum parish going against all odds, to a large family trying to make ends meet, to that best mate Marv whose young life stalled early over a wrenching loss …
The one detail Ed can’t figure out is who could possibly be sending the cards … all he knows is that a couple of violent henchmen like to make unexpected visits bearing in-between missives in person. No matter what challenges he faces, Ed turns out to be quite a real hero after all. Message by message, he proves ”[m]aybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of …” We should all be such accomplished slackers …!!
Readers: Young Adult (with caution), Adult
Published: 2002, 2005 (United States)