February 28, 2006

Notes on the Messenger

Regarding his opinion on meaning in movies, a quote is often attributed to Samuel Goldwyn: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." I am usually of that school of thought when it comes to fiction. Especially in YA fiction, 'message' books are verboten, and passé. In the eighties, they usually came in the form of thinly disguised morality tales where a girl who has sex gets pregnant and dies (while her partner... is...fine?) and the gay kids are beaten to a bloody pulp, and people spit in their coffees when their names are mentioned. (Oh, wait. No, that was...) Anyway -- Markus Zusak's I am the messenger is a calculated gamble with a strange twist that wins, and is actually... kind of... a 'message' book.

But, not in the way you think. See, there's this guy, Ed? He's... kind of a slacker. He drives a cab. He plays cards. He pines over this girl. That's pretty much Ed. Oh, and his mother hates him, but he does her heavy lifting anyway. All that changes when Ed steps into the limelight and stops a robbery. Suddenly people know his name. Someone knows where he lives, anyway... they keep delivering cards to his mailbox. No, not Hallmark, think more Bicycle cards, or something. Playing cards. Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, Clubs. The cards come with instructions... and Ed's playing the game of his life.

He gets beaten bloody. More than once. He finds tremendous joy. It's an amazingly twisted story that tilts your perceptions on characters, plot, fact and fantasy , and in doing so, moves from merely good to really great. There's a reason this is one of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Books.

I expect this will be on many high school Senior book lists. (And saying 'Senior' brings me reminds me... the protagonist is nineteen. Most librarians agree that the cut off for YA literature is a year before then, so this novel is arguably something other than YA fiction, especially since some of the things that happen in the book are pretty disturbing. At the end of the novel, this was brought home to me again - - in a way I won't elaborate upon in order to avoid spoiling it for you -- but I wondered 'why' about some of the incidents that are depicted. Enough said.) This was an exceptionally interesting book, one that made me glad to be a writer and a reader in a world where Markus Zusak lives. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

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