In this time of isolation and global uncertainty because of the COVID-19 crisis, the need for entertainment to keep us occupied has never been more urgent.

This is why over the next couple of weeks I will be sharing some of my favourite books. These are books that have been sources of comfort during some of my own personal student-angst moments over the years. I’ll also include some new ones that I will finally be able to read with all the available time on my hands.

Before we get into the first book however, I’d like to assure that I know what I’m talking about. I have been a steady reader since the age of 10 when I decided books were no longer icky due to learning the Harry Potter movies were actually based on books. This proved to me that books were not just an adult’s way of sucking the fun out of anything. I later eventually had to accept that 9/10 times, yes, the book is better than the movie.

Assured? Good! Let’s get into the first one.

I Am The Messenger is a nice 357-page novel by Markus Zusak, who is also the author of critically acclaimed The Book Thief.

For those of you who are frightened by large tomes, don’t be: this one goes down easy.

The story follows Ed Kennedy, an underage cab driver who is pretty much your average loser. He’s stuck in the same crappy part of town he grew up in, is desperately in love with his best friend, Audrey, equally devoted to his dog, the Doorman, and has no clue in hell what he wants in life. All that changes after he stops a seemingly pathetic attempt at a bank robbery when the first ace arrives in the mail.

Armed with only his cab, a vague idea of where to go and questionable intuition, Ed makes his way through town to send a message to every person that shows up on those aces of Diamonds, Clubs, Spades and Hearts. Some are brutal, others heart-lifting – all of them life changing.

Almost every moment is illuminated by Zusak’s brilliant, but not overly flowery use of words. Even just a simple description of the Doorman lying in the sun by Ed’s door makes me feel something. “He’s happy when the sun throws warmth on through the flyscreen door. He’s happy to sleep there and move on a forward slant when I try to shut the wooden door at night. At times like that, I love the hell out of that dog. I love the hell out of him anyway. But Christ, he stinks.”

I think in large that’s because I’ve seen many first-person narratives that seem almost more like a third-person telling with how detached or overdone they can be. In I Am The Messenger, Zusak manages to use simple language that feels like Ed, which makes it easier to relate to this already very relatable character on an even deeper level. For example: “That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.” The author knows how to use simple language to make the most impact. This way, the things important to Ed become important to us.

There are also plenty of twists throughout the novel to keep the reader on their toes in the quest of trying to figure out who sent Ed the cards, as well as in the messages themselves. I honestly, did not see quite a few of them coming, and I am notorious among my friends for guessing the big twist in books and films.

Perhaps the most memorable thing about this book though, is that every time I get to the end of the novel, when Ed barely recognizes the man in the mirror, my own reflection seems a little brightened. The hopeful joy this book brought to me managed to lighten even the dark circles under my eyes from reading too late.