This book was the latest monthly choice for my real-life book group. Out of the three on offer, I voted for it purely because I have Zusak's The Book Thief on my bookshelves and I reckoned if I liked this, I would finally get around to reading TBT. Little did I expect it to be one of the best reads this year.
Ed Kennedy is a slacker, with slacker mates. He is a taxi-driver and the only thing he cares about is his smelly dog, The Doorman. He and his slacker mates like to play card games. Marv is highly strung, extremely tight with money and hates The Doorman. Ritchie is a slacker...and that's it. Audrey is the love of Ed's life, his soulmate, his perfect lover and friend...only snag is she doesn't feel the same way. Oh, she loves Ed, but just as a friend and doesn't shy away from sharing her sexploits with him.
The novel opens with the Ed and Marv at the bank, frustrated as the queue seems to be taking ages, Marv's heap of a rustbucket of a car is parked in a No Parking Zone and he is terrified he is going to get a ticket. Ed and his mates love to slag off Marv's car. It's an extension of his unwillingness to spend money. The bank falls victim to an armed robbery, and the hapless robber hijacks Marv's car to make his getaway. This entire opening is possibly the funniest thing I have read for a while, and really set the tone for the entire novel.
Soon after, Ed receives an ace of diamonds in the post with 3 addresses on it and 3 times. No names, no clues. He has no idea who the card has come from or who knows about his card-playing, sole pastime. He takes a chance and visits the house when directed. At each house, he spies till he finds out why he has been sent there. Each house contains a person in need. A wife being raped and beaten, a running girl who just can't win races and just can't find the same kind of pleasure in racing as she does during her early morning runs and a lonely elderly woman who long misses her deceased husband.
And so the tale is sown. Each time a card arrives, Ed has to work out the mystery from the clues, (author names, film titles...), and help whomever he has been sent to help. In doing so, Ed becomes less isolated, less seperate from society, and begins to feel good about himself. He faces a long-standing feud with his mother and accepts things about his family. And he resolves a few things with his slacker mates.
The real mystery is though, who is sending these cards? Who wants him to save others and thereby save himself from himself and his friends from themselves? Zusak has a little Auster moment, I think.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a part dark-comedy part feel-good novel and is written with a sense of fun and heart. Some of the tales Ed encounters touch you very deeply, especially Sophie the running girl, and those of his friends, the friends that he spends so much time with but really never knew. At times, it was also kind of scary as Ed hangs about in rough neighbourhoods, not knowing that Keith and Daryl, the card-thug-duo may be around the next corner.
Hugely enjoyable book, and I may just pick up TBT sooner than I imagined.
Zusak's I Am The Messenger was one of my favourite and most memorable reads of last year, so I was anxious to read more of his work, but bypassing the huge The Book Thief for a while. So I picked this up, Getting the Girl.
Three brothers, Ruben, Cameron and Steve share a vulnerable relationship. Steve is the big brother, hugely successful and lives by himself in an apartment, away from his dysfunctional family and 'loser' brothers. He plays basketball. Ruben (who also features in Fighting Ruben Wolfe) is the good-looking brother, who goes through girls, and gets whatever he wants. Then we have Cameron, the youngest brother who just want to be loved by a girl, to touch a girl and to find his own happiness and place between his different-but-successful brothers.
The only problem is he falls in love with Octavia, Ruben's current girlfriend. He know that Ruben has given her a shelf-life of 2 weeks, so all he has to do is wait. Meanwhile, he forges a tender relationship with his brother Steve, playing one-on-one basketball late at night, getting to know each other better.
Zusak is a great writer - he has a warm, friendly and profound style that draws readers in immediately, giving the appearance that the subject matter is much lighter than it actually is. He provides touching images for the readers to hold onto, like Cameron playing late-night ball with his laconic brother, like Cameron dragging Ruben home from a beating, like brothers finding their place in the sibling relationship. Ostensibly, a love story about a young boy and his first love, this book is really about the love between brothers and finding ways to make that relationship count.
The first outing for the brothers Wolfe and I should have read this before Getting the Girl but there's not much that jars by reading the 2 books in the wrong order. Apart from elder brother Steve still being at home, on the verge of moving out.
Cam and Ruben, still sharing the same bedroom with no intention of splitting up, join an illegal fighting ring. Not just for the money, $50 for a win - tips for a loss, but for the right to declare to the world that they are better than what they appear, they deserve more.
Ruben is the star, knockouts galore and Cam is the underdog, the one with heart that keeps getting up off the floor after every punch. Only thing, as the tournament progresses, both brothers are still in the game and the inevitable finally dawns. Brother against brother.
I loved this book, I have loved the 3 Zusak crossovers I have read recently. I love the Wolfe brothers, and Zusak's relaxed, funny, and sad style of writing. Thank heaven I still have the book that made him well-known, The Book Thief, still on my shelves.
This was a reading group read, otherwise I might not have picked it up and then might not have read it through.
There are two covers to this book, one for young people and one for adults. I have the adult cover. The cover is printed to look aged, ill used and dirty and had a sketch of a young girl and a cloak covered skeleton dancing. The girl is Liesel and the skeleton is Death. Death is the narrator of this story and Liesel is the main character
As you open the book, inside the dustcover, it says 'Here is a small fact' then on the next line 'You are going to Die'. I have to admit being stunned if not shocked that these should be the first words of a book aimed at young people (as well as adults).
A simple enough story (I tried to put in a spoiler here, but I'm afraid the instructions I wrote down do not seem to work), yet because Death is the narrator it has a strangeness about it. This is emphasised by the layout of the book. Just as the dustcover gives you a 'small fact', the reader is fed these facts throughout the book in bold type with headings and narrative or lists. These facts are inserted in the narrative at irregular intervals and can relate to a character or a situation. They were initially very disconcerning. The novel is divided into ten Books. At the beginning of each Book each chapter heading within that book is listed. The chapter headings are far more informative than just a heading.
Death does not just tell Liesel's story either. He interrupts the prose to give his view of the War too. This Death has emotions, which he expresses often. And he sometimes jumps ahead and tells the reader what is going to happen.
Once I had got used to the layout of the book I have to admit I found it very readable and engaging. I am now looking forward to the reading group discussion. What I'm not sure about is how children would react to this book.