Saturday, January 6, 2007

I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak

Title: I Am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (2005)

19 year old Australian cabbie Ed Kennedy leads no charmed life. His father died of alcohol poisoning, his mother continually criticizes him in the harshest way, he lives alone with his aging and malodorous dog, Doorman, and to top it all off, the woman he loves (his best friend, coincidentally) does not share his romantic feelings. When he accidentally foils a botched bank robbery and gains a moment of minor celebrity, a mysterious person begins sending him playing card Aces with unusual clues written on them. With a bit of ingenuity and some luck he deciphers the clues to discover that they lead to people in need of help. The first three cards send him to such disparate situations as a wife who is raped nightly by her abusive husband, a young woman who runs barefoot every pre-dawn morning, and a lonely old woman who desperately misses her dead spouse. Later clues lead him to even more diverse circumstances such as a destitute family in need of Christmas cheer, and a languishing church suffering from a lack of attendance. Some clues lead him into serious danger; others lead to tea in comfortable sitting rooms. The final Ace leads him to his three closest friends where he faces the personal pain of those he loves. The ending is purposefully ambiguous and ultimately leaves the reader in the position to decide the significance, or lack thereof, in the messages that Ed delivers throughout the story. The voice of the narrator was realistic, strongly written, and filled with personality. The rest of the characters were written with similar skill and help to create a living world in which the story unfolds. Zusak is able to mix humor and tension to create an engaging atmosphere of mystery that doesn’t suffer from the heaviness that could have arisen from many of the themes expressed in the novel. The result is a compelling look at the power of the individual to act as a force for change in the world; an important and powerful message for modern youth. Some coarse language and the delicate nature of some of the themes make the book most appropriate for older teens.

WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher

Title: Whale Talk
Author: Chris Crutcher
Publisher: Laurel Leaf, Reprint Edition (2002)

T.J. Jones is an exceptional young man; mixed race in a predominantly white community, wise beyond his years, and fantastically athletically gifted. Although his athleticism could garner him acceptance, popularity and success in the sports-centered, central Washington high school he attends, he has thus far refused to turn out for any sports. That is, until he finds a way to participate that flies in the face of the well established system of athletic privilege at Cutter High and helps some fellow exceptional individuals and an understanding teacher, Mr. Simet. By joining Mr. Simet’s newly established swim team and recruiting a cadre of misfit and outcast students he happily bucks the system while riding it all the same. By exploiting a loophole in the rules for setting requirements for earning a letterman’s jacket, he attempts to help his team earn these coveted symbols of excellence in Cutter High and prove that even the most unaccepted members of society can succeed in the face of opposition. This is a theme that runs throughout the book in many storylines, both major and minor. Aside from the main action of the swim team’s escapades, T.J. helps in the therapy of a five-year old, mixed-race girl who has been terribly abused by her racist stepfather, and T.J.’s father struggles with a dark secret that sets him apart from others in the most tragic of circumstances. All of these stories intersect in an ending that is both heart-breaking and triumphant, in which it is proven that when the bad guys win it doesn’t necessarily mean the good guys lose. The writing is easy to follow and engaging, but suffers from bouts of melodrama to make the major points. The characterizations are absolutely excellent providing each person with a detailed and complex psychology with the one exception of T.J.’s girlfriend. Her character is a bit 2-dimensional and although very important to T.J., is relegated to the background. Regardless, it is a fine read and a must for teens struggling with acceptance and being different. Course language and themes of racism and violent abuse may make the book more appropriate for older teens.


Welcome to The Rogue Librarian. I will be posting reviews of books, movies, graphic novels, etc. appropriate for teenagers of all ages from 11 to 111. I'll be making recommendations as well and probably blathering on about all sorts of marginally related subjects. I hope you enjoy what you read here and feel free to contact me with suggestions, comments and even reviews of your own. I'll post those that meet my standards.