I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: B+

From the back cover:
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Doesn’t this sound like the premise for a geeky TV show or movie? It certainly had that sort of vibe at first, with narration and dialogue that prompted me to mentally cast Simon Pegg in the role of Ed and Nick Frost as his annoyingly childish friend, Marv.

Pretty soon, though, things got a lot more serious. The cards Ed received sent him on a variety of missions, from kind of sappy things like spending time with a lonely old lady and rustling up a congregation for a priest to more dangerous ones, like dealing with a drunken lout who abuses his wife. I liked that the messages for Ed’s three best friends were the last tasks he had to complete, and that it forced him to take the scary steps of breaking through the pattern of superficial interaction he’d had with them and finding out their secrets, fears, and what it was they really needed. The resolution of Marv’s message was particularly moving.

The writing was often funny, but sometimes a little too pretentiously poetic. Example: “Voices slam and the door shouts shut.” Things like that disrupted the narrative flow of the story with their clunky construction. Plus, they conjured memories of high school creative writing assignments, which is seldom a good thing.

The ending was weird and very disappointing. The identity of the person behind Ed’s mission made very little sense. Zusak apparently felt the need to reinforce the already-obvious point that Ed’s not actually the messenger, but the message, and it concluded things on a rather confusing note.

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