Ed Kennedy is a nineteen-year-old cabdriver and perpetual underachiever. His best friend is a smelly old dog, and his only social interactions are card nights and getting yelled at by his mom. But shortly after he stops an incompetent bank robber, Ed’s life changes abruptly. Someone is sending him playing cards in the mail, and those cards send him on a mission through his run-down Australian town. Every card connects him to four people, and Ed makes a difference in each person’s life. These connections are also starting to shake Ed out of his complacent existence. But he has no idea where the cards are coming from, or to what they might be leading him.
The set-up for this book was original and interesting, and Ed is the kind of lovable loser who inspires compassion in readers. He’s also a funny, self-deprecating narrator. I did have a few quarrels with the book. While the process of seeking out the people from each card and connecting with them was subtle and compelling, the tactics of the mysterious person who sends Ed the cards took away from my enjoyment of the novel. I never understood why there was a threatening figure telling Ed what to do, it was never made completely clear why Ed was chosen by this figure, and his motives were never explained. It is intimated by the text that this figure is the author, but this idea is never really explored. The scene where the mystery man meets with Ed feels heavy-handed and resolves little. I would have preferred either more or less resolution – either resolve the matter completely, or leave it open-ended. My other, much smaller quibble was with the author’s consistent use of very short paragraphs and sentences broken into pieces in order to place emphasis. This is a pet peeve of mine, and it was a device used often enough for me to find it distracting. Despite these issues, I found Zusak’s novel thoughtful and Ed’s journey moving.