A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book is loaded with swearing and sexual references and fantasies. There are several bloody beatings, a husband rapes his wife, and characters smoke and drink to excess. But this well-written book, the winner of the 2003 Australian Children's Book Award for Older Readers, has a sweet message: When the slacker protagonist begins helping others, he finds new meaning in life -- and his relationships with his friends and relatives change. Teens may have fun discussing the book's themes (Is it possible to change other people's lives for the better with simple acts? Is it possible to change your own?).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Ed is a loser. His friends are losers. He drives a cab, lives in a shack, hangs out, plays cards, gets drunk. His dog smells. His mother despises him. The girl he loves doesn't love him back. That's his life, until the day he accidentally captures a bank robber who's an even bigger loser. He has his five minutes of local fame, and is happy to go back to his slacker life. But a few days later the Ace of Diamonds arrives in his mailbox, with three addresses and times written on it. At each address and time Ed finds someone in need of help, some fun (an old lady who needs some company), some harder (a brutal man who abuses his wife). As he continues to receive clues about other people, he finds that his view of himself, and his relationships with his friends and relatives, are changing, but a mystery remains: Who is sending him these clues, and why? And how does this mystery person know so much?
Is it any good?
When it's good, it's very good; this award-winning novel about a slacker whose life is altered when he starts receiving mysterious playing cards in the mail has glimpses of brilliance. Aussie author Markus Zusak has that down-under way of being relaxed and hard-edged at the same time, allowing him to deal with some serious subject matter in a way that's both light and powerful. He also has a way of making his slacker characters so intelligent and appealing that it makes the reader wonder just what exactly is wrong with a life lived small and free of ambition. The resolution to the big mystery of who is sending the cards reads as if Zusak just couldn't figure out how to get out of the hole he'd dug for himself, so he just slapped this on. But if you can ignore the last 10 pages, this is a terrific, at times moving, and thought-provoking story that can lead readers to look at their own worlds in a slightly different way.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the author and his work. Markus Zusak also wrote the award winning book The Book Thief. I Am the Messenger is also an award-winner, having earned the Australian Children's Book Award for Older Readers. Why do you think Zusak's books appeal to critics and award committees? Does it make any difference to you if a book is well reviewed or wins awards?
Many reviews -- including this one -- criticized the book's ending. Why do you think so many reviewers found it disappointing? What did you think about it? Would you change it? How so?
For kids who love a little mystery
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.