Genre: Australian fiction, young adult, bildungsroman
Narrative Style: First person, chronological
Synopsis: Ed Kennedy is a no hoper. He drives a cab and hangs around with his friends. He has a dog and is in love with Audrey, one of his friends even though she is not interested in him romantically. He has no prospects and no ambitions. Then playing cards start to appear in his mailbox and his life changes irrevocably.
Time on Shelf: About six months. After reading Bridge of Clay last year, I was keen to read more Zusak.
I enjoyed this. It was an easy read – I didn’t realise when I picked it up that it was aimed at the teen market – and the characters were interesting. Ed was an observant and funny narrator and the messages he has to deliver are weird and I was keen to know who was sending them. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the other Zusak I’ve read. It’s sometimes a little weird when you read an earlier work by a writer and this felt like it just wasn’t quite there yet. It had a lot of Zusak’s quirks but they weren’t delivered quite as well as in the later books.
The opening chapter is one of the best I have read. Ed and his friend Marv are face down in a bank that is being robbed, rather incompetently. By the end of the chapter, Ed is a hero and his face is in all the newspapers. Not long after this, he receives the first playing card – the ace of clubs – which has three addresses on it. At each address, he has to do something to help the people who live there. This theme follows with the other playing cards. Some of the jobs are easy – pretending to be an elderly lady’s long lost husband, for example – and some are difficult – dealing with a man who comes home each night to rape his wife, for example. As the novel progresses, the messages Ed has to deliver become more personal and he starts to realise that there is more to him than just being a underage cab driver.
All the way through, I was curious about where the playing cards were coming from. I knew there was potential for it to completely spoil the story if I wasn’t convinced by it or if we didn’t get to find out. As it is, when Ed has delivered all the messages, a man appears who tells him he has arranged everything. He killed Ed’s father, made the bank robbery happen, forced the man to rape his wife and so on. He gives Ed all the notes he has made about it and sure enough all the events are in there. Clearly, this man represents the author who is controlling everything in order to make Ed a better person. I’m a sucker for fiction about fiction so that really appealed to me. (Obviously, you could see this as a religious metaphor if you wanted to but I prefer the idea of an overarching author to that of an overarching God.) It left me feeling happy and satisfied.