I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zuzak (audiobook)

Ed Kennedy is nineteen years old, one year too young for the cab driver job that fills up his directionless life. His life consists of being nagged by his mother and playing card games with his best friends, Marv (who drags Ed along to his rugby games and hoards money, yet drives a falling apart car), Ritchie (real name Dave Sanchez, but nicknamed after the tattoo of Jimi Hendrix on his arm that suspiciously resembles Richard Pryor), and Audrey (the blonde beauty and fellow cabdriver whom Ed is hopelessly in love with). Once content to drift through life, Ed’s world is shaken up when he is stuck inside a bank during a robbery, surprising both himself and others when he thwarts the criminal, picking up the criminal’s dropped gun and shattering the window of Marv’s car, which luckily refuses to start for the fleeing criminal.

Suddenly lauded as a hero, Ed’s face is splashed across the newspapers…And that’s when the first ace shows up in his mailbox. Three addresses are scribbled on the playing card, and Ed soon discovers that he has been called upon for a mission. He is expected to make a difference in the lives of the people at these addresses, to get to know these individuals and find out how he can better them, whether in small or big ways. From the Ace of Diamonds through the Ace of Hearts, Ed travels throughout his run-down town, deciphering the code of the playing cards and finding out more about both himself and the people around him.

I Am the Messenger was absolutely astounding. While Zuzak’s The Book Thief is one of my favorite books, I had somehow held off on reading this for a few years. I am incredibly glad that I chose to experience it in audiobook form, as the narrator, Marc Aden Gray, brought Ed to life perfectly. His voice was a perfect mixture of grave, familiar, concerned, determined, and caring.

The power of Zuzak’s story lies not only in the character of Ed, who undergoes a complete transformation within these pages, as the messages lead him to finally care about both others and about the direction of his own life, but also in the supporting characters whose names and addresses appear on the Aces. There’s Sophie, the beautiful blonde girl who runs like the wind, and whose innocence and determination inspire Ed forward. There’s Milla, the elderly woman who still grieves her lost love Jimmy, sixty years after his WWII death. There’s Father O’Reilly, whose only wish is to revive and renew his diminished congregation. And there’s Marv, whose rapidly increasing bank account is hiding a deep secret.

While the middle two Ace’s characters aren’t quite as well-developed as the first and last Aces, Zuzak maintains a steady narrative momentum throughout I Am the Messenger, leading up to the final revelation of who is actually sending Ed these playing cards. While I was a bit disappointed with the ending (I actually preferred my guess), Zuzak’s conclusion does make sense for the book, and sends a solid message home with the reader. Any book that sends home the message that “Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of” without being preachy is accomplishing something huge.

This goes on my list of favorite reads of all time.

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