This week I finished reading Markus Zusak's I am the Messenger (2005). It's worth the read but the first Zusak I'd recommend is definitely The Book Thief (2006). These books are two completely different animals.
Playing cards start showing up mysteriously, one at a time, for Ed to find. Aces. And there are short lists written on them, like clues he has to figure out. Suddenly, Ed has a purpose, and luckily though his purpose is far-fetched and frankly bizarre, it manages to drive the novel through a series of odd characters, each of whom need something from Ed. He manages in every case to solve the puzzle of what these people need in their lives.
Several of the characters, like a teenage girl who runs barefoot at dawn, and the elderly owner of a decrepit, old fashioned movie theater, are downright beautiful. Other encounters are less savory, like the abusive rapist or the two angry teenaged brothers who constantly beat each other up. In every situation Ed must figure out how to help these strangers move on with their lives. And in the end not only does Ed sort out his own purpose, he helps his three stagnating friends find out that life is worth living as well.
Zusak handles violence as well as beauty deftly. His simple, elegant observations about the world of the novel are a pleasure to read. Ed's journey from general layabout to unlikely guardian angel is proof that with good intentions anyone can make a difference in the life of a child, or a stranger, or a close friend. It's no wonder that I am the Messenger won the Children's Book Council Book of the Year award in Australia.