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I Am the Messenger
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on February 11, 2017
I recently read John Grisham's The Racketeer. It was a very fun book; and if you're looking for some brain bubblegum, then I recommend it. And when I was done, I went looking for another fun book. The recommendation that I found was I Am The Messenger. It turned out to be the fun that I was looking for. I wasn't prepared, though, for just how much more than fun this book would be.

> "Why me?" I ask God. God says nothing. I laugh, and the stars watch. It's good to be alive.

The author was obviously influenced by Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist of the story is an anti-hero with seemingly mediocre mental resources and ambition. He has a similar lack of responsibility towards money, and also seeks love from an apparently average sort of woman.

> It makes me look deeper into the street, trying to find the future events in store. I'm happy.

The author uses the lyrical technique of having the story progress with a mysterious list. Much like And Then There Were None or Atlas Shrugged, a list appears without an obvious purpose, and the protagonist's adventure is to proceed through this list. And like Catcher in the Rye, we watch the protagonist's character grow as he proceeds through the adventure.

> I didn't know that words could be so heavy.

All of the above is extremely fun, and would have satisfied exactly what I was looking for. But then there's the "more." The author is able to interweave lyrical prose into his colloquial speech. Like a droplet of watercolor crashing into a glass of clean water, these moments of poetry bring extreme beauty to an otherwise simple appearance.

> This isn't about words. It's about glowing lights and small things that are big.

And then there's more beyond that. We find that through the character's growth, his mental faculties become stronger than we had thought. In the most believable and common way, he demonstrates cleverness. And then, like The Things They Carried, the reader can begin to wonder whether this is a story at all. Is this a book, or a letter, or something else?

> I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means you need life in your life.

I'm being purposefully vague. I worry that I've already revealed too much. In my life, I've come to realize that competence is unusual. Most people seem to stumble through life with the goal of minimal effort. Competence is so unusual that I celebrate it. In those rarest of occasions, I get to interact with something more than competence: excellence. I Am Messenger is one of those experiences. I hope that I get to meet Markus Zusak (the author) someday; I'd like to give him a hug.

> When the job's done, he smacks me on the shoulder and we run off like handsome thieves. We both laugh and run, and the moment is so thick around me that I feel like dropping into it to let it carry me. I love the laughter of this night. Our footsteps run, and I don't want them to end. I want to run and laugh and feel like this forever. I want to avoid any awkward moment when the realness of reality sticks its fork into our flesh, leaving us standing there, together. I want to stay here, in this moment, and never go to other places, where we don't know what to say or what to do. For now, just let us run. We run straight through the laughter of the night.
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on June 30, 2016
Whether the author intended this book to be a realistic novel where the plot actually could occur, a pure fantasy of events, an allegory of the growth towards adulthood or the mere wanderings of a nineteen year old teenager’s mind matters very little. For the message remains the same; we receive back from life that which we put into it, if we give little, we receive little and what we give to others we actually give to ourselves . No, this is not a book that have flowery descriptions nor is it one that explores our spirituality nor professionalism. It simply examines life for what it is; a scary and demanding place in which we either define who we are or waste our lives slovenly living it through with a mundane future bleakly lying ahead of us.

While “The Book Thief” received the accolades that it richly deserved, so, too, should this novel be recognized for what it is; a book with deep and profound meaning. The author, while hoping to have a young adult learn from its contents, the novel is, likewise, meant for all of us. When we are faced with a challenge do we have a tendency to do the ‘easy thing’? Or do we, like our protagonist, attempt the hardest and most onerous action? For only then can we expect ourselves to grow and to understand those who are around us. Only then can we retire each night and say, quite honestly, I gave today all I had to give.

In our data-filled and confusing world have we become overwhelmed with mere survival and/or the constant repetition of daily tasks or have we spent the time to come to deeply know ourselves? We can never know our limitations until we have attempted to exceed them. We can never truly define who we are unless all options are acted upon. Let us not only become the messenger that is carried to others, but let us become the message and the role model for others to follow.................
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on May 3, 2017
Author Markus Zusak is a master at taking a somewhat unlikely protagonist and and deftly inserts them into your heart! Just like The Book Thief, this book gave me All. The. Feels.

Ed Kennedy is an unmotivated slacker who drives a cab. He hangs with his (rather loser-y) friends, and is in the throes of unrequited love for Audrey, his best friend. One day he manages to catch an inept bank robber, and now he's a “hero”. And he immediately receives a playing card in the mail—an ace of diamonds. Three addresses are written on it. Ed has been chosen, and he is required to help these people. He's not sure who's “requiring” him to do this (but at one point when he wavers, some guys show up to get physical with him to guarantee he does the job!), and he's never told what help he's supposed to give. He has to figure it out.

Each person he helps becomes a tiny “storylet” that all add together to make up the main storyline of Ed's journey. It is Ed's very “unheroicness” that makes him such a touching hero. All the people he helps, without being the least bit sentimental, completely warm your heart.

This is just one of those books that touch you, and it's a feel-good story for sure. When you finish it, you will put it down with a sigh, and think “What a GOOD book!”
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on June 2, 2018
"I Am the Messenger" is a fantastic book. Superbly written. A wonderful cast of characters. Even the dog. Especially the dog. Emotional. Humorous. Gripping. I read it in two days.

Zusak's writing style is a bit different. If you read reviews you'll see that some people struggle with it, but I really enjoyed it. I think I appreciate it because it is different, and not run-of-the-mill. But it's even more than that. Once you become accustomed to the writing style, you can acknowledged its brilliance, it's ability to ability to bring settings, characters, and their motivations to life without being wordy. This is a difficult thing to do, and Zusak pulls it off effortlessly.

And it's not just a great story. Like all truly great stories, there is substance that goes deeper, substance that asks you to think about your own life. Granted, in our current society, some of the things the protagonist does would be considered somewhat weird, and probably land him in jail for being just a bit too creepy. But in the context of this *fictional* story, it works. You don't have to be creepy to be better.

I really struggled with the rating. If you view my scale below you see that I don't just give out 5 starts willy-nilly. I feel like I have been given about 30 literal 5-stars, and they must last my entire life, so I have to be very careful when I hand them out. To be honest, I wanted to give this 4.5 stars. But, since I can't, I went ahead and bumped it up to 5, because I thought going down to 4 would not be fair, especially when compared to some of my other 4-star reviews. So 5 it is.

Jason Schreier's treatise on the crazy world of game development pulls back the curtains on what often happens behind the scenes of some of our favorite games. The torturous, complicated, and turbulent world of making a video game is put on display, as we get an insider's glimpse of the politics, the people, and the industry. Most people are unaware of how difficult it is to actually bring a game to market successfully, let alone realizing that doing so usually requires many weeks, if not months, of 80- to 120-hour workweeks for entire teams of people. After finishing the book, the tagline for ABC's iconic Wide World of Sports from the 70's seemed to fit perfectly for the developers, engineers, artists, designers and product leads that gave so much - "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat."

Jason Schreier is news editor for the gaming website Kotaku, and has also provided articles related to video games to major media outlets, such as Wired, the New York Times, and the Onion. As such, he is able to provide a knowledgeable take on the subject, deftly walking the line between explaining concepts and situations for the uninitiated that most gamers would already know, and still being fascinating and interesting to both. His writing is solid, and easy to follow.

Schreier's book consists of the in-depth story behind the making of 10 popular video games. Often the stories read like fiction, with heroes and villains, twists and turns, sacrifices of unbelievable proportions, and evil empires, er, corporations. Sometimes they end good, sometimes not. And sometimes your not sure. You'll have to decide if the price paid by all involved is worth the final product. Because the price is often more than you realize when you boot up your favorite game for a few minutes of escapism.

Even though I've given the book a 3 rating, please don't take this as meaning it is a bad book. Quite the contrary. On my scale this means it is still very much worth your time. But at the end of the day, it reads like 10 very good separate, but thinly related, articles, as opposed to a strong and deep book.

I noticed Amazon and Goodreads have a slightly different meanings to their 5-point scale. I thought it was odd to have a different rating for the same book on two different sites, so I came up with my own scale below. For the record, it is fairly close to Amazon's scale, but allows me to be consistent between the two sites.

5 - Fantastic. Life-altering. Maybe only 30 in a lifetime.
4 - Very good.
3 - Worth your time.
2 - Not very good.
1 - Atrocious (less)
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on July 3, 2016
I was surprised. I bought the book accidently, read the first chapter, decided I didn't like the style of writing, but wanted to know what happened next. By the third chapter I became accustomed to the writing style and just kept reading. As the book progressed I laughed, I cried -- I went through a lot of emotions, and felt better for it. I found myself really caring about the 4 street kids (not kids really, but young adults.) Even "minor" characters were wonderfully drawn into the story. This is definitely not just a children's book -- I wish it had been around when I taught 9th grade English. It's a book kids will understand and be able to read, and grown ups will find themselves thinking about a lot of things, big things, small things, things one could, should, might do or have done differently. It's a book that needs to be talked about in a book club, a classroom,and a church.. I've never thought about advising a church reading group to read something like this -- but yes, it belongs there too! Read it. Now.
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on February 9, 2016
I was inspired by the main character Ed’s very normal life. Maybe normal is too nice a word. His life is more mediocre. He doesn’t have any ambitions or achievements or direction really. The story is about him receiving anonymous cards in the mail that challenge him to help people. He changes their lives in small and big ways just by being observant. It made me want to observe and serve others more. If an ordinary guy can help in small ways, then so can I.

After reading I Am The Messenger, I got that chance.

I saw a guy shopping for baby formula at the grocery store. He would look at a can of baby formula for a minute and put it back. Then he’d look at another can. Then he’d put it back. I found this strange and fascinating. Most people quickly dump 8 cans of the exact same formula in their shopping cart and hurry off. I have never seen someone compare types of baby formula so carefully.

This guy was taking his time for some reason. I continued to watch him (he didn’t notice because he was now scrutinizing a fifth can of formula) and tried to figure out what situtation would make someone shop for formula like that. He must never have bought it before. Maybe he has a wife at home with a screaming newborn baby and was instructed to “get formula” only to find the grocery store has 473829 kinds. And now he doesn’t know what kind to get. So I went up to him and helped explain the difference between the 439280 kinds of formula and gave him a coupon. He seemed grateful. I imagined him going home to his wife victorious because he’d gotten the right formula AND used a coupon.

It’s not life changing or anything. That being said, Ed didn’t feel like he was doing anything life changing either.

It’s not a big thing, but I guess it’s true— big things are often just small things that are noticed.

-Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger (p. 221).

But it reminded me that kindness, true kindness, comes from listening and observing others to see what they really need. Small acts of kindness are big in their own way.

The reason this story works is because it’s crude, crass, biting, sarcastic, and full of swearing. Let me explain. The writing hides the preachiness of the story so well that I really enjoyed reading it and it wasn’t until the end that I realized I learned something. I’m not saying something has to be crude for you to learn something. But hiding a story about serving others in a crude story might accidentally teach someone something when all they had really intended was to pick up an entertaining book. Making it a little crude can also make the story relatable so you close the book feeling like the character did things that you are more than capable of doing, too.

There were some parts of the writing that I found so beautiful. Here’s one of my favorite quotes. I just love how Markus Zusak takes a cliche saying and switches the words around to paint a lovely picture:

Quietly, Marv cries.

His hands appear to be dripping on the wheel. The tears grip his face. They hold on and slide reluctantly for his throat.

-Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger (p. 316).

I like that the tears grip his face instead of his hands gripping the wheel. But I can still imagine the image of tears gripping his face like he’s trying so hard not to cry but he can’t help it. I find it so beautiful for some reason.
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on May 12, 2017
There were a few times that I wondered what this was about, and why was I reading it, but I kept turning the pages because I fell in love with the protagonist. You will be rooting for Ed. He's just a guy. Just a young man struggling to make sense of it all, and yet he is so amazing. I can't say anything more without giving away the ending. Just read it. There's a lovely message within every page. I would expect nothing more from the author of "The Book Thief". Markus Szusak, you are my author hero.
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on May 16, 2016
Nice to have a story with a positive message. Would recommend for late tweens and teens on up (I'm several decades past my teens...). I'd read Zusak's "The Book Thief" years ago, before the movie, and was moved by it. Very impressive story telling that made me think about it for days afterward. This is not of that level of accomplishment -- and the topic and setting are completely different, dramatically less oppressive -- but I knew I'd be getting something worth reading in "The Messenger" simply because of Zusak.
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on March 6, 2016
Wow. I read The Book Thief a few months ago, and the powerful storytelling of Zusak has remained with me, which nudged me to try another one of his books. I am typically not particularly drawn to young adult novels; however, there are a handful of authors who have made me reconsider the entire genre: John Green, J.K. Rowling (alright, I am admittedly a bit of a "Potterhead"), and now Markus Zusak. The novel is brilliantly written. The prose is eloquent and descriptive and the characters feel real and relatable. I absolutely love the message of the story (get it? The MESSAGE?!?). Ok. I'm a dork. Still, this was the type of book that had me fighting sleep to squeeze in another chapter. I finished it in about a day because when I wasn't actually READING about Ed and his friends, I was THINKING about them.
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on April 4, 2014
As I was more than half way thru this novel, I still was uncertain as to the number of stars it might receive. The story here is conveyed with a gentle touch of humor.

Slow moving, but yet able to be followed, its main character, Ed Kennedy, goes thru his life somewhat lost and without purpose or aspiration.

His most open affection is for his coffee loving, stinky dog, `Doorman'.

Ed surrounds his non-working hours with Ritchie, Marv, and Audrey. Playing cards together is a main focus of their get togethers.

Ed's mother is formidable. She is forever changed and marred by the unfaithfulness and lack of ambition by her late husband. Ed's relationship with her is filled with misunderstanding and lack of affection. She is a character for certain.

His life continues without event until he unwittingly foils an attempted bank heist and secures the perpetrator no less.

Soon after, Ed Kennedy receives delivery of the first of four Ace playing cards (different suits) with three notations on each. He finds himself attempting to decipher their meanings and embarks on a series of adventures, dangerous meetings and curious circumstances.

What becomes of Ed and those around him would make for an enjoyable Lifetime movie!
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