Do you want to know a secret? It's something that many children's book reviewers believe, but don't often reveal. Lean closer; here it is: children's books often make better reading than the selections on the adult bestseller list. Take Australian writer Markus Zusak's new novel, I Am the Messenger. This so-called "teen" book has as much to say about love and life as any best-selling book for adults. Here's the premise: Ed Kennedy, a young Australian man, is in a bank with his friends when the place gets robbed. The robber isn't exactly a rocket scientist, and when Ed and his friends start sarcastically commenting on the robber's technique, one thing leads to another and Ed becomes a hero by stopping the thief. Shortly after this exciting episode, a playing card arrives in the mail for Ed. Written on the card are three addresses, with a time of day written after each location.
Ed isn't your typical hero. He drives a taxi, lives in a run-down house with a foul-smelling dog, has a mother who can't stand him and a brother who ignores him, and is in love with a girl who only wants to be his friend. Yet something about the card compels him, and he finally decides to go to the first address at the time indicated to see what will happen.
In an effort to protect the surprising plot twists, we'll just say that Ed quickly realizes he has been chosen by someone to make a difference in people's lives, and the ways that he chooses to do so are both quirky and startling.
I Am the Messenger is raucous, poignant and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Zusak has a gift for both dialogue and description, and his characters and settings spring right off the pages of this thoroughly enjoyable book.
So just once, be a kid again. Buy I Am the Messenger for yourself. And when you're through, give it to a teenager. Be forewarned, though: the novel is liberally sprinkled with adult language and would be best suited for mature teen readers.