Book Review – I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

book_messengerI fell in love with THE BOOK THIEF, also written by Markus Zusak, when I read it a couple of years ago.  As one of my writing friends put it so eloquently, it’s a perfect book for “those who love words and the human spirit”. (Unapologetically stolen from Helen, because she is awesome. And because I gave her the credit.) I also audibly gasped in delight and may have even punched my husband in the arm when I first saw the trailer for the movie adaptation. I can’t wait to see it and then read the book, again.

My daughter had to read THE BOOK THIEF for school last year and I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for her to fall in love with it, too. I forgot that there would be parts that would also break her heart. She cried and asked why the sad things had to happen and wanted to rewrite those bits. I totally understood that. We had some interesting discussions about death and personal choices and great stories.

But this review isn’t about THE BOOK THIEF (which if you haven’t read, you are depriving your soul of happiness and light, but that’s just my opinion), so let’s move on.

This year, my daughter picked up I AM THE MESSENGER all on her own. Even after suffering through the pain and loss of the first book by Zusak. She just makes me so proud. I read this book at the behest of my daughter who loved this second book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoilers. She had questions about the ending, especially. She wanted to discuss what happened with me so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not only because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this story still manages to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey.

In I AM THE MESSENGER, Zusak speaks through the point of view of a young slacker named Ed. His siblings have applied themselves, escaped the dump they grew up in on the bad side of town, and achieved successes that have made their mom proud, but Ed remains in the same neighborhood, floundering in mediocrity. 

If nothing else, I can lay claim to the title of Youngest Cabdriver in these parts – a taxi-driving prodigy. That’s the kind of anti-achievement that gives structure to my life.

Who hasn’t felt like this? Like you’re wandering aimlessly through the universe as an insignificant speck or that you’ve no idea what you’re doing with your life? Or that you have nothing of value to offer anyone? I know I have. This delicate structure of reality Ed lives in is disrupted when he unwittingly becomes a hero and thwarts a bank robber’s getaway plan, despite his best efforts not to get involved.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. 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?

I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

When the first playing card arrives, with a list of addresses on it, Ed collides with destiny. He instinctively feels that this is a turning point for him. A defining moment. He follows the clues, steps out of his mind-numbing bubble, and into the lives of the people at the end of the addresses. While he observes these people he comes to understand what it is that he must do for them, what message he must deliver. The results are often unexpected and sometimes shocking. Ed starts changing, growing more confident, while still unsure why he’s been chosen for this task or where it will ultimately lead. Along the way, he fumbles in such a beautifully human way when he takes a stab at fixing his own life and finally tells Audrey how he feels.

It comes gushing out, with words like spilled milk. “And I wish it was me touching you and not that other guy. I wish it was my own skin touching with yours…”

And there you have it.

Stupidity in its purest form.

“Oh, Ed.” Audrey looks away. “Oh, Ed.”

Our feet dangle.

I watch them, and I watch the jeans on Audrey’s legs.

We only sit there now.

Audrey and me.

And discomfort.

Squeezed in, between us.

She soon says, “You’re my best friend, Ed.”

“I know.”

You can kill a man with those words.

No gun.

No bullets.

Just words and a girl.

Amazing, right? There are so many other scenes just as quotable and memorable. The universal questions raised are worthy of their own philosophy course.

I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation. Read this book; you’ll be glad you did.

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

Week 2 of NaNo and I’m Still Alive – The Dog, Well That’s a Different Story

Okay, Okay, he’s alive.

I didn’t mean to make you worry.

It was touch and go for a few days. Honest.

Stormy, our six year-old rescue lab got sick for the first time since ever. He went down for the count in the middle of a hectic week, filled with NaNo and evening plans, school and work, family life bustling all around. It took us all a good twenty-four hours to realize the big guy was just lying there – not moving, not eating, not drinking. He’d stopped barking at the neighborhood kids, the postal worker, the squirrels, the wind blowing in the trees. He’d stopped greeting us at the door with more barking.

It was the silence that alerted us to his condition. That and when my daughter tried to take him for a walk, the usually bouncy, barky dog couldn’t even make it down the driveway.

Then we noticed he wasn’t eating either.

No fluids in or out.


After day two, we really began to panic. And we were wracked with guilt for not noticing sooner and for not knowing what to do. First thing I’ll tell you is the viral email about giving a cat a pill I read years ago is ten times funnier now that I’ve tried to give our dog pain medicine. He wouldn’t take it no matter how we disguised it. Even with peanut butter – and that dog loves peanut butter. Everything we tried went down, but that damn pill always came back up. My daughter and I were covered in dog drool and fur when we finally smashed the pill up and gave it to him in some water. We maybe got a fourth of the medicine down him. Who knows if it made him feel any better.

We read everything online we could and kept trying to feed him and give him water. He’d take a few laps out of a cup if it was put to his lips, but not enough to get him back on his feet. (He was probably a little leery of taking water from us after the medicine trick from the day before.) He peed once, but according to my husband the nurse, it was a very unhealthy dark color. I took his word for it. No, I didn’t need to see it. (He captured some just in case. Nurses are weird.)

We even started an IV on him on day three. Okay, my husband did. After he watched a video on YouTube (you can really find out how to do almost anything on there). For my part, I closed my eyes and held him down, being the good, yet squeamish assistant. Stormy laid still like a good dog. He didn’t even whine after the initial stick. (Yes, Tim, you’re awesome. You can stick anything. Again, nurses are weird.) After getting a fourth of the bag in, Stormy sat up abruptly – the most activity we’d seen in days – and promptly pulled the IV out of his leg. It was a start, but we were done with that line of therapy. There was no way we were doing that again. Because I said so. The nurse probably would have tried again. Stormy seemed to do better for awhile. He moved around and drank some more out of the cup. Then he stopped moving and drinking again.

Still no good pee came.

Later in the day, we made him some chicken and rice. He ate that up. He was on the mend. Water and food intake shot up, although we had to hand feed him. For the next few days, he only drank out of a cup if we brought it to him and only ate if we made him chicken and rice and laid it at his feet. (I was beginning to feel we were being snookered.)

By day five, he peed a good strong stream and we all cheered. (Yes, it really takes so little to make us happy.) He even ran to the door when our daughter came home from school. We knew then he’d be okay. And that the little bugger could drink out of his bowl, again.

Yesterday, he barked like mad when my husband came home and I forgot how nice and quiet it had been while he was sick. I also realized how much his illness had affected all of us. I didn’t write as much during the second half of the week, more preoccupied with Stormy than my story. (I’m always complaining that my dogs are underfoot  – even now they surround my desk while I write – I’m in danger of stepping on one of them whenever I get up and I’ve rolled over an ear or tail more times than I care to remember.) My husband called me several times while working, not to check on me or the kids, but to check on our ailing dog. Both of our kids tried to comfort Stormy and snuggled with him on the floor or brought him water.

I know we’re all glad to have him back to his bouncy, barky self.

Stormy several years ago showing off his creative side and as always under my feet.
Stormy several years ago showing off his creative side and as always under my feet.

Let’s talk about weekly goals now that my head’s back in the game.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. are my #writemotivation /NaNo goals for this month:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo. (I will finish a first draft this year. I WILL!) I broke through the ceiling of the 10K mark and that felt so amazing. I’m a little behind right now, but with everyone in good health and after talking through some of my plot points with my husband this weekend on a nice long walk, I’m ready for round two. Bring it, NaNo!
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. I didn’t attend any write-ins this week because of sick puppy and husband’s work schedule, but this week shouldn’t be a problem. And I will be taking another dare. I double-dog dare you to take one, too.
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. I did get some posts pre-scheduled and this made life so much easier. This is my new favorite thing to do. If I don’t watch out, I may become…ORGANIZED! ACK!
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. Family took precedent over writing many times this week, if you count Stormy, which I think you all can tell, I do. (I spent time with the younglings and my husband, too. But I didn’t hand-feed them.)

I know some people have already finished – insane! – and some are ready to give up because life or their project is too overwhelming/not working out right now, which is okay, too. I’ve given up a few times, myself. This is a very personal/individual thing with a community of support to drive you on, no matter how your NaNo goes.

How’s your NaNo going?

What Music is Supposed to Do – An Inspiring Stories Segment

This is the second in my Inspiring Stories segment. Read the first one here.

This story comes from the Moth Radio Hour and it involves two very unlikely music genres, rap and soft rock, or more personally Darryl “DMC” McDaniels (of Run DMC fame) and Sarah McLachlan.

(How strange that I had mentioned Run DMC on my blog last week and then I hear this story about one of its members a few days later. Sometimes subjects gravitate towards me like that – totally not in my consciousness radar at all, then I see references for the subject everywhere. That’s when I know I should pay attention; usually it’s the universe trying to tell me something important. Other times, it just means Tom Cruise has a new movie coming out.)

So back to the Moth Radio Hour. If you’re not familiar with the format of this particular show, here’s a description:

The Moth Radio Hour features true stories told live on stage without scripts, notes, props or accompaniment.  Moth storytellers stand alone, under a spotlight, with only a microphone and a roomful of strangers.  Each hour mixes humorous, heartbreaking, and poignant tales that captivate, surprise, and delight with their honesty, bravery, and humor. (description from website.)

Darryl McDaniels telling his story on The Moth Radio Hour

For this episode, Darryl McDaniels steps up to the mike on the empty stage and his voice fills the space with an unexpected story about his struggle with depression in the midst of a successful tour and his yearning to find meaning, to figure out what he’s living for. I listened to him speak while driving in my car. I was mesmerized. When I arrived at my destination, I sat there in awe, still listening to his story. At the end of it, I cried. So beautiful and moving and all about how art can save you. I found it very inspiring and it made me want to write after I heard it.

I recommend you listen for yourself here.

The abbreviated version is that during a very successful overseas tour, McDaniels began feeling suicidal and tried to find reasons not to end his life. He decided that he couldn’t do it right then because it would upset his bandmates. He’d wait till the tour was over. On the drive home after the end of the tour, a song came on the radio that changed his life. It was Angel by Sarah McLachlan. He thought that if something this amazing existed, life was beautiful. He spent the next year listening to every album she ever wrote. Her music saved him. One day, He got the chance to tell her in person. And she said that’s what music’s supposed to do. (Ah! That killed me. What a perfect response. I feel the same way about all different kinds of artistic expression.) He continued to struggle with a feeling emptiness inside, but he kept listening to McLachlan’s music, with a little more hope.

Then, at the age of thirty-five, he found out he was adopted. The void inside made sense. The missing piece was all about where he came from and wondering about whether or not he still had value if his birth parents gave him away?

I’m gonna write a record that’s gonna help that little kid in the foster home or that little adopted kid or the grown up adopted man. Adoption is just my situation. Whatever situation you’re in on this earth, you have a reason.

And with Sarah McLachlan’s help and harmonies he did just that. He worked on a new solo album and one of the tracks was a re-envisioning of Harry Chapin song Cat’s in the Cradle, entitled Just Like Me.

Here’s the video. I hope you find it inspiring.

Progress forward is progress – #writemotivation and NaNo update

2013-Participant-Facebook-ProfileI did something crazy this year for NaNo and started with a completely blank page. I had the barest inklings of a premise to start with and that was it. Usually when I start a project I have a little more to go on. Some basic research, maybe a character sketch, even a vague outline. Not this time. I started with a word count of zero.


I did find my mind working on the premise a few days before the start of NaNo. Anytime I was driving or showering or doing some mundane chore, my brain was coming up with ideas. Yet, I didn’t write anything down.

I waited.

I let everything percolate. Simmer on the back burner.

When midnight struck on November 1st at the kick-off party, I let my fingers take off and words actually filled up the blank pages, much to my relief. It really helped to be surrounded by other writers just as eager and excited to get started on their new projects. I’d never been to a kick-off party before. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed meeting some new writer friends and hearing about their projects and how anxious they were to get started. Many of them were first-timers. The energy was contagious. After an hour, I had my first thousand words.

And I got to take home my very own box of doom. So cool.

At the second write-in on Saturday, I took part in a couple of timed word count challenges. And one dare. Oh, yeah. It was on. What surprised me most was how much I could write in those thirty minute spurts – unedited spurts at that.

This has really helped me overcome my biggest problem as a writer – too much editing during the first draft. I think a few more days of this and I’ll stop flinching when the strong impulse to edit rears its ugly head.

writemotivation_header1Here are my #writemotivation /NaNo goals for this month:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo. (I will finish a first draft this year. I WILL!) I’m right on track so far. As of today, I’ve written over 6,000 words out of the 50,000 needed to win NaNo.
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. I should have made this goal harder. I’ve already attended two write-ins and taken one dare – which I accomplished, with bonus points, no less.
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. Although I did prep some posts, I didn’t flesh out as many as I’d hoped. Still time to make this goal before next week! I do have a couple finished, so how about partial credit?
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. I have a family? Just kidding. My husband has made me promise that I will take the day off from writing every day that he takes off from work. A healthy compromise. That just means I have to do more writing on the other days. So far it’s working okay. Although we’ll see how well this goes near the end of the month if I’m behind on my word count.

So how is your NaNo going? Surviving the first week okay?

Not doing the NaNo? What other writing goals are you working towards?