Genre: Young adult fiction
Publisher, Year: Knopf Books, 2005
Other Works: The Book Thief
Flags: Adult themes, tenuous references
Rating: A, or Great Read
Challenge: 100 Books, Library
Premise: A young man finds himself on a journey to complete certain tasks: protect the diamonds, survive the clubs, dig deep through the spades, and feel the hearts.
I really enjoyed The Book Thief, so when a friend mentioned that she liked this book, I figured I should give it a go. Took me awhile to get around to it, slowly but surely. This one wasn't an automatic for me, but in the end, I think I liked it. I'm still not totally certain. Of one thing I am certain however, and that's that Zusak is a very talented, very brave writer. And even though I didn't love, love, love this book, I still have strong feelings for him as an author. (In the most Platonic way, of course--hehe.)
Ed Kennedy is going nowhere. He's a nineteen-year-old cabbie, making ends meet and playing cards--that's about the extent of his life. Until one day, he and his friends stumble into a bank robbery, where Ed finds himself in the unlikely role of hero. That's when he receives his first card, and his life changes forever. He faces each challenge completely empty-handed, looking and searching for ways to help the people he has to help. This time, failure is not an option. And as he meets his challenges, each one more difficult than the last, Ed finds something in himself that he never knew was there.
I loved Ed--there's something about him that is truly endearing. He's hopeless, and he doesn't care about that. He lives in the most honest way he can muster and looks for a bit a joy where he can find it. But he learns through his challenges, that that is not enough. It's not enough to live small. I think what Zusak touches on here is borrowed from John Donne. The idea that each of us is lacking something that someone else can fill, thereby making an entagled web of connections between all of our human hearts.
And when that happens, when that intricate web is woven, you find love there--great love. A love that can only develop through great sacrifice. This was the part I felt I needed a few days to marinate with, after turning the last page. Because at times this story is violent, overly so. And that part confused me. For Ed, this journey was painful in every sense--emotionally and physically. And after all was said and done, the pain tied him to each person he met in such a deep way, as that pain slowly transformed into love. But why did it have to be so painful? Why were the consequences so great? And then I realized that it wasn't the pain that formed that unbreakable human bond--it was the act of sacrifice. And sacrifice is always painful. Without pain, there is no sacrifice. But without sacrifice, there is no love. And if you take away love, then you are left empty.
Zusak illuminates these sentiments with perfect clarity, without becoming sentimental. Every page is shot through with the most beautiful poetry and lasting images. But I have to say that I was disappointed in the ending, which I felt took away from the meaning of the story and made it feel arbitrary. However, I think this has very little to do with the quality of the writer, or even the book, but rather is a symptom of the process that is a writing career. Zusak is ever improving--he can't be thought at fault because of his success. These rungs on the ladder have to come from somewhere. And in that, I can pardon this terrible disappointment, and I didn't let it ruin the experience for me. And that's exactly the word I would use to describle this book--an experience. One that won't fade for some time, I'm sure. So yes, I think I liked I Am the Messenger--I'm pretty sure I did. =)