Barbara Radecki’s sophomore novel, Messenger 93, opens with a flutter of information. A mind-bending conversation with a crow kicks off the absorbing thriller, and cryptic messages, hidden clues, and uncertain instructions become the norm in M, the narrator’s, life. M feels compelled to investigate the disappearance of a girl named Krista, and her movements over the seven days that structure each chapter offer insight into her life and closest relationships.
A Typical Teenager?
In some ways, M is what many would consider a ‘typical’ teenager. She has a “headphones-on-music-cranked-sketchpad-armored normal life.” And yet, she does not hesitate to search for Krista, a girl who tormented her at school and online. She travels from her home and community to different suburbs and districts in her city, and eventually ends up in “the middle of nowhere. North of everything.” Through each new phase, M’s emotions are beautifully rendered and readers get a real sense of her development as she confronts daunting, at times terrifying, situations.
Rather than running on blind faith, or retreating to the comfort of her previous life, M continually questions her motivations and reassesses the objectives of her mission. She wonders just who it is she is trying to save, what she is saving them from, and why. Returning to these central questions becomes a bit disorienting for both M and the reader; however, I think this sense of confusion is purposeful. Despite the fact that M is uncertain, she feels called to do something and answers that call with purpose (even if she is often misguided).
Difficult Subject Matter
M’s approach to her mission is particularly interesting in light of some of the issues at the heart of the novel. Radecki tackles difficult subject matter with grace, and asks tough questions for her readers to reflect upon. The impact of social media is one through line, as are reflections on self-worth and questions of authenticity. Crucially, Radecki also centres a discussion of white privilege and violence against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People. As she notes in her acknowledgements, she is a “white, able-bodied, middle-class, cisgender woman” who is working to “understand and resist our systems of inequality”. This transparency is crucial, and Radecki’s approach to Indigenous characters and culture feels considerate and careful. For example, a young Cree man named Gray states, “It might not be the best idea for me to lurk around on private property. You heard what happens out here to kids who look like me, right?” In response, M cringes as she recognizes her ability to unthinkingly move through these spaces without the threat of violence. The focus is often on M’s emerging awareness of systemic racism. She reflects upon the harm of media and police bias toward Indigenous communities and confronts how Canada’s colonial system is engrained in her own understanding of the world. For white readers, witnessing M’s recognition of her own complicity is perhaps the most impactful aspect of the novel. Her story reminds us that we must confront the fact that our identity is rooted in the suppression of others, and find ways to question and challenge our biases and expectations.
While the ending may leave some readers perplexed, Messenger 93 is ultimately a novel focused on unpacking assumptions and facing difficulty. It is also about love, mystery, and growth in seemingly impossible, at times implausible, situations. Centring a cast of well-developed and intricate characters, this intense and haunting novel pulls readers along on a complicated quest, and asks critical questions for readers to return to long after M’s journey comes to an end.
For more about Barbara Radecki and Messenger 93, see our exclusive interview with the author here.
About the Author: Before transitioning to writing, Barbara Radecki was an established actor with many film and television roles and hundreds of commercials to her credit. In recent years, several of her screenplays have been optioned or sold. As a screenwriter, her most recent film, Modern Persuasion, will be out in 2020. Born in Vancouver and now based in Toronto, Radecki was nominated for the Kobo Emerging Writers’ Prize for her first YA novel, The Darkhouse.
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Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.