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Author Biography:

Markus Zusak is an Australian author, well known for his bestseller The Book Thief. Son of an Austrain Father and German Mother, Markus grew up in Australia listening to stories about Nazi Germany. Zusak knew that he wanted to be an author at age 16 and, after several unsuccessful manuscript submissions, he wrote The Underdog in 1999, and had his book published. His fourth book, The Messenger (I Am The Messenger is the United States Release name), was a best seller. His fifth book, The Book Thief, surpassed the fourth in sales and literary acceptance. The Book Thief is the book that Zusak always wanted to write.
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Setting & Historical Context:

Though it is not explicitly stated in the novel, I believe that the story takes place in Australia. The author is Australian and, though specific city names are not mentioned,they talk about a place called "the Cathedral" which is an area of "bushland" in Australia (Zusak 87). The action takes place in the slummy parts of a large city. The time period is unknown, but the only time that a computer is mentioned is in relation to a card-catalogue system at a library, so it seems likely that the novel took place in the early 1980's, before computers were popular in households.

Plot Overview:

Ed Kennedy is a cab driver in Australia with a pathetic and worthless life. He has three friends, Audrey, Marv, and Ritchie, who he hangs out with a lot. None of them aspire to be anything. One day, Ed recieves an envelope with the Ace of Diamonds in it. On it are written three names and three times. Going to the places at the specified times, he finds three people in need, and considers it his duty to help them. After completing the three assignments, he gets another card, the Ace of Clubs, and, after some searching, he manages to find three more people and delivers three more "messages." This continues for Spades and Hearts. For Hearts, the people he has to assist are his three close friends. The last card Ed receives is a Joker. Soon after that, he meets the man behind the cards, and the man reveals his purpose behind them: to make Ed a better person, one who will actually go out and do some good.

Characters:

Ed Kennedy is an under age (19) taxi driver living with a dog (name "The Doorman") in a shack of a house. He has three close friends, Audrey (the love of his life, though she doesn't know it yet), Ritchie, and Marv. Ed plays cards, drinks, and drives cabs. That's basically it. He doesn't know what else there is to do, and so he just does nothing. He aspired once to be something more, but was too lazy in school to go to University.

Audrey (surname unknown) is about the same age, or a little older than Ed, and is a Taxi driver at the same company that Ed is. She cares a great deal for Ed, but is afraid to love anyone. She doesn't really commit to any romantic relationships, though she entertains one throughout the duration of most of the book, but she is mostly in it for the sex. She wants Ed to be happy, but is not willing to engage in a relationship with him.

Marv is described throughout the novel as "useless." He isn't smart, he's generally not a nice buy, he doesn't have a good job, and is generally a slob who still lives in his parents house and is basically the stingiest person ever.

Ritchie is the last of Ed's friends. His biggest fault is his lack of motivation. He's not stupid, he's generally a good guy, but he has no desire for anything, he has no interest in improving himself or his situation so he, like Marv, lives with his parents. Unlike Marv, though, he doesn't work much, if at all. His real name is Dave Sanchez, they call him Ritchie because of a tattoo on his arm that's supposed to be of Jimi Hendrix, but looks like Ritchie Pryor.

Book Recommendations:

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak; Getting the Girl, by Markus Zusak; The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; The Maze Runner, by James Dashner51eQvANUsnL._SS500_.jpg51eget.jpg51ehunger.jpg51emaze.jpg

Reviews:

From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up - Nineteen-year-old cabbie Ed Kennedy has little in life to be proud of: his dad died of alcoholism, and he and his mom have few prospects for success. He has little to do except share a run-down apartment with his faithful yet smelly dog, drive his taxi, and play cards and drink with his amiable yet similarly washed-up friends. Then, after he stops a bank robbery, Ed begins receiving anonymous messages marked in code on playing cards in the mail, and almost immediately his life begins to swerve off its beaten-down path. Usually the messages instruct him to be at a certain address at a certain time. So with nothing to lose, Ed embarks on a series of missions as random as a toss of dice: sometimes daredevil, sometimes heartwarmingly safe. He rescues a woman from nightly rape by her husband. He brings a congregation to an abandoned parish. The ease with which he achieves results vacillates between facile and dangerous, and Ed's search for meaning drives him to complete every task. But the true driving force behind the novel itself is readers' knowledge that behind every turn looms the unknown presence - either good or evil - of the person or persons sending the messages. Zusak's characters, styling, and conversations are believably unpretentious, well conceived, and appropriately raw. Together, these key elements fuse into an enigmatically dark, almost film-noir atmosphere where unknowingly lost Ed Kennedy stumbles onto a mystery - or series of mysteries - that could very well make or break his life. - Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. Ed is a 19-year-old loser only marginally connected to the world; he's the son that not even his mother loves. But his life begins to change after he acts heroically during a robbery. Perhaps it's the notoriety he receives that leads to his receiving playing cards in the mail. Ed instinctively understands that the scrawled words on the aces are clues to be followed, which lead him to people he will help (including some he'll have to hurt first). But as much as he changes those who come into his life, he changes himself more. Two particular elements will keep readers enthralled: the panoply of characters who stream in and out of the story, and the mystery of the person sending Ed on the life-altering missions. Concerning the former, Zusak succeeds brilliantly. Ed's voice is assured and unmistakeable, and other characters, although seen through Ed's eyes, are realistically and memorably evoked (readers will almost smell Ed's odoriferous dog when it ambles across the pages). As for the ending, however, Zusak is too clever by half. He offers too few nuts-and-bolts details before wrapping things up with an unexpected, somewhat unsatisfying recasting of the narrative. Happily, that doesn't diminish the life-affirming intricacies that come before.Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review
"Zusak doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor.”
- Time Magazine
"Elegant, philosophical and moving...Beautiful and important."
- Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"An extraordinary narrative."
- School Library Journal, Starred
"Exquisitely written and memorably populated, Zusak's poignant tribute to words, survival, and their curiously inevitable entwinement is a tour
de force to be not just read but inhabited."
- The Horn Book Magazine, Starred
"One of the most highly anticipated young-adult books in years."
- The Wall Street Journal

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Themes:

The overarching theme of the novel is "help others to help yourself." This is, when all the nitty gritty details are stripped away, the essence of the book. Ed receives messages, and he has to decipher them and decide how to deliver them. All of the tweets involve Ed helping out various people, whether those people are his friends, his mom, or random strangers, in the end, after Ed has done 12 good deeds, he has benefited more than any single person he helped.

Motifs:

  • Playing card games and drinking to distract from the problems of life - all of the four main characters have loads of problems, and they all get together often to commiserate in their woe over a game of annoyance and some cheap alcohol
  • Lying as a way of getting out of trouble and getting what you want - Ed Lies all the time. He lies to Audrey, Marv, his boss, reporters, etc
  • Violence as the answer - Ed often times uses violence to deliver his messages, such as the incident with "Edgar St." and the Rose Boys
Symbols: Dogs, Movies, Ice Cream, Playing Cards

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Works Cited:

Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Study Questions:

  1. Why does Ed fear the Ace of Spades?
  2. What does Ed give to Sophie's father and why?
  3. Why does Ed maintain his farce with Milla?
  4. Is Ed a better person at the end of the book than the beginning? How has he grown?
  5. Is what the mastermind behind the plot of the book did a good, noble, right thing to do? Why or why not?