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Zusak Redux

Mark,

As you noted, I really did love this book. When I read it the first time, the ending didn’t bother me at all. I admit that I have a tendency to pretty much take writers where they are and not ask too much on a first read–I’m willing to go along for the ride. In this case, I think my reaction was sort of a shrug–perhaps I, too, had been reading enough metafiction that I didn’t give it much thought.

I gave it so little thought, in fact, that when I read it the second time a few years later, in preparation for a reading group, it came as a surprise to me for the second time.

I think what that means is that I was so involved in the story, and in Ed’s life, that I didn’t really care how Zusak got him out of it. I loved the humor in the book, and the genuineness of Ed, and I kind of liked the fact that this had all been brought about by authorial fiat, and that we were being told that. And it was really just a way to end the book, because at this point he had moved Ed along to the point that the book needed to end.

In retrospect, after hearing Zusak’s own regrets, and Beth’s well-reasoned comments above, I can see that it could be seen as rather a cop-out. I know that it made some of my book-group readers uncomfortable, although at the time I more or less dismissed their discomfort as a lack of imagination.

As I write this, however, I find that I can’t really condemn Zusak for it, or even regret it, as he apparently does. One of the things I liked about the ending was that it took a risk, and I like that in a book. I like to have something to think about, and I like to be surprised. I like to close a book and think to myself, “Huh. THAT was certainly interesting.”  So I have more tolerance for a risk that maybe doesn’t quite succeed than I do for a too-predictable ending. (Not that there weren’t other ways he could have ended this book and still maintained the surprise and interest. And not that I can imagine what a too-predictable ending would have been for this book!)

So there you have it–my own not-very-definitive answer to your question!

Two more comments about Markus Zusak, though:

1) I was so happy that YALSA President Shannon Peterson gave a shout-out to Getting the Girl at the Edwards Brunch (she mentioned that it had been a treasured book for a teen boy she had worked with). Getting the Girl is, in my opinion, Zusak’s overlooked and underrated book (although happily, the Edwards Committee cited it).

2) When is Zusak going to write another book? It has been seven years since The Book Thief!

–Mom

 

 

 

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ALA Debrief: Markus Zusak

Mom,

i am the messengerWell, we’re back from ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I seem to have been the only librarian there who kind of enjoyed Vegas, although the heat was truly terrible, but I’m glad to be home nonetheless. You and I went to several programs together and a whole bunch separately, so hopefully we’ll have a few thoughts to post to this blog, but the very first thing I wanted to get up is about Markus Zusak’s speech at the Margaret A. Edwards Award brunch.

Since I write and work for School Library Journal (which sponsors the Edwards Award), I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to the brunch and an invitation to meet Markus beforehand. He was incredibly kind and gracious and I thought his speech was lovely, discussing his development as a writer and his desire to write books that “only [he] could have written.” But the piece I want to discuss today was a brief digression that I might have missed had I not been discussing the very same issue with a friend. Zusak was talking about I Am the Messenger (or The Messenger as it’s known in Australia and as he referred to it), and he said, “I think I really screwed up the ending.” That’s a direct quote, the following is a paraphrase: “some people really got it, some people didn’t get it at all, and some people thought they got it but didn’t.”

The_Messenger_Au_CoverI’m sure you remember, but for our readers’ benefit, the ending of I Am the Messenger has Ed, our narrator, encounter an unnamed character who, it quickly becomes clear is Markus Zusak himself, who explains to Ed that he has written Ed’s story. It’s one of the more purely metafictional moments in YA fiction–it lays the ground for the final lines of the book, “I’m not the messenger at all./ I’m the message”.  And it is undoubtedly strange since nothing has really prepared us for this moment of stepping out of the story this way. At the time I read the novel the first time I was reading heavy doses of metafiction so it didn’t really even phase me. So I was surprised when a friend of mine read this for the first time and reacted negatively to it. And then I was even more surprised when Zusak got up at an awards ceremony and admitted to screwing it up!

I don’t know if this post is of interest to anyone other than myself and my unnamed friend (if he/she wants to reveal him/herself in the comments, feel free!), but I thought it was worth writing about since I don’t often hear authors so blatantly admit to faults in their writing. I know you’re a bigger Zusak fan than I am, especially of I Am the Messenger. What did you make of the ending at the time? What do you make of it now?

– Mark

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