There's very little positive that one can say about Ed Kennedy's achievements in life and, what's even worse, he knows it. At the tender age of nineteen, he's already suffering a full blown mid-life crisis. His best friend is a dog so smelly it could gag a sewer rat at twenty paces. The only job he's had which amounts to the tiniest hill of beans is driving a cab. He's madly in love with Audrey, a girl who refuses to love anyone and treats him only as her best friend. His male friends, Richie and Marvin, are equally washed up. Their only entertainments are rugby, boozing and playing cards. His father was an alcoholic and his mother treats him with utter disdain and a complete lack of respect.
Whether it was the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time is a matter of debate but, one day in the middle of his otherwise humdrum life, Ed Kennedy is caught in the middle of a bank robbery. When he manages to nab the robber, he is hailed as a local hero and destiny pushes his life down a new path. He begins to receive anonymous coded messages on playing cards instructing him to be at a certain address at a certain time. Clearly, on the basis of his ability to halt a bank robbery, somebody is assigning him to a series of tasks which are intended to change other people's lives. The missions are widely varied - rescuing a woman from a nightly rape by her alcohol-soaked husband; giving the gift of happiness to a confused elderly lady by assuming the role of her long dead husband; providing an enthusiastic congregation to an unfulfilled parish priest; forcing spiteful brothers to recognize their love for one another; and so on. And whoever is behind these cryptic messages is not allowing Ed the option of declining the invitation. A serious beating at the hands of two mysterious night visitors convinces Ed that he has no choice but to assume the role of "the messenger".
"I am the Messenger" is, of course, a message. It is intended to convey the idea that worldly achievements - wealth, good looks or fame, for example - are not the basis of a fulfilled life. Love, charity, friendship, happiness and other more lasting virtues not only come from somewhere else entirely but require considerable investment of effort to achieve them.
Adults reading "I am the Messenger" may think that Zusak has succumbed to sermonizing. They might also suggest that the emotional impact of his novel is so sweet as to be cloying. However, if we remember that Zusak's intended audience is the young adults in grades 9 to 12, then we might forgive him for being a little obvious and leaving a little less to the intuitive leaps of a more mature reader.
While it doesn't have quite the gripping power of his previous novel, "The Book Thief", "I am the Messenger" is still quite capable of putting a lump in your throat and a smile on your face. Engaging characters, raw but realistic dialogue, endearing life-affirming messages and a satisfying ending make "I am the Messenger" a novel well worth the time invested to read it. Highly recommended.