The Amazing Audiobooks blogging team is here with the first wave of nominations for Amazing Audiobooks! There’s something here: nonfiction, contemporary realistic fiction, and science fiction.
Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Mark Bramhall
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: January 2017
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an incredible book that focuses on the secondary school football career of early sports star Jim Thorpe and his teammates at the Carlisle Indian School. The book discusses the rise of the football team under the direction of legendary football coach Pop Warner and budding celebrity athlete Jim Thorpe.
I know very little about the history of football (or the sport in general), but when I talked about this book to a few sports fans, they immediately knew the names of Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe, even if they didn’t know the full story. In this book, Sheinkin divulges an integral piece of sports and American history that is known by too few, and he does it in a way that is manageable and entertaining for both youth and adults. The book covers not only the history of football as a sport, but also the very negative interactions between the Carlisle Indian School and other colleges and universities at the time (particularly the Ivy Leagues). While he specifies that it is not the focus of the book, Sheinkin also discusses the terrible reality of the history between the US government, even the wider US population in general, and the Native American communities still in existence at the turn of the 20th Century.
Rather than read this book, I listened to Mark Bramhall’s audiobook narration of it. While listening, I often found myself imagining that I was a young child again, enjoying a bedtime story told to me by a grandfatherly-figure whose storytelling abilities abound. I do not doubt that the book stands on its own, in any case. However, listening to Bramhall’s reading felt as though I was watching a documentary: the measured pacing and calm dictation of the book’s content created a tone that painted a vivid picture of the characters and situations at the Carlisle School that feels both fun and scholarly at the same time.
Sheinkin discusses the person that was Jim Thorpe in a way that one might discuss a mythological figure: mischievous (but not malicious), rowdy, but beyond the physical reach of anyone else in the sport. Sheinkin also writes about Thorpe as though both his athletic prowess and his general spirit were indomitable. While this isn’t the first book written about Thorpe, Undefeated offers a story about an underdog whose combined natural talent, spirit, and determination helped him succeed in the face of never-ending adversity.
Though there are few overly dramatic moments in the book, there are a number of high intensity plot twists that keep the listener invested in the story. When the narrative starts to lull, Sheinkin does a fantastic job of jolting the reader with a tense and pressured event, like a major competition, a devastating loss, a thrilling win, or an explosive scandal. Bramhall keeps up with these ebbs and flows and does an excellent job of expressing the decreased or intensified emotion through his dictation.
Readers interested in reading other books about Jim Thorpe should try Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac. If you’re a fan of football-based fiction, you should try Abbi Glines’s Field Party Collection, Paul Volponi’s Crossing Lines. If you like to read historical biographies about sports stars, you should check out Unbroken (Young Readers Edition) by Laura Hillenbrand or The Greatest: Muhammed Ali by Walter Dean Myers.
— Katrina Ortega
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, narrated by Bahni Turpin, Dominic Hoffmann, and Raymond Lee
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication date: 11/1/2016
Natasha has lived in New York City for a decade. It’s been a hard decade, with her family living jammed in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and constantly on edge because of their undocumented status. It’s also been a great decade, in which Natasha has grown to see the city as her home, and has yearned for a “normal” teen life. When her dad is arrested for drunk driving, the family is deported, and Natasha will do anything she has to do to find a way to stay. On her last day in the city, she runs into Daniel on his way to an interview for Yale University. Also a family of immigrants, Daniel’s parents have pushed him to excel academically, and he’s suppressed his poetic side his entire life. When their paths cross, it’s love at first sight – sort of.
This love story is told over the course of twelve short hours, but never does it feel drawn-out or slow. Natasha and Daniel tell their stories in alternating first-person narration, with separate narrators in the audiobook version for each. As the day progresses and Natasha and Daniel are brought together, separated, and brought together again, Yoon fills in glimpses of minor characters and their back stories. The characters who are woven into the story are as diverse as New York itself, and the degree to which Yoon develops these characters so richly keeps the book from feeling sticky sweet. While there is plenty of romance, Natasha and Daniel are also fighting their own battles, and their lives outside of the love story are as interesting as the sparks that fly.
Bahni Turpin, who voices Natasha, is a bit of a rockstar in the audiobook world. You may have heard her in books ranging from The Help by Kathryn Stockett to The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and she’s won three Audie Awards, along with other industry accolades. Despite the fact that she’s not a teenager, her narration feels age appropriate and is never distracting from the text. Her narration is filled with emotion throughout the book, and it’s hard to believe that she’s not experiencing the joys and heartbreak herself. Turpin is joined by Raymond Lee, who does an equally empathetic and rich reading of Daniel, and their narration is tied together with Dominic Hoffman’s appropriately authoritative narrator. Having three narrators who all nail their performances and fit together perfectly is certainly a feat!
This book is certainly a tearjerker, make no mistake, but it’s also a delightful celebration of the diversity of experiences that surround us on a daily basis. For teens who love A.S. King’s no-tradional narratives, who were crazy about Eleanor and Park, or who wish they lived in the New York of Ms. Marvel, this book will hit all the right notes. Recommended for teens, adults, and anyone who has ever fallen in love, even when they knew it was a bad idea.
— Ariel Cummins
Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited By Ellen Oh, narrated by a full cast
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: 1/3/2017
Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh is abundantly adept at tugging at each and every heart string. The stories contained therein are an impressive hodgepodge that cobbles together volumes of insight and vibrancy. From urban bildungsromans to tall tales of rollicking adventure yarns, each story is imbued with a strong thematic core and makes an effort to impart sage advice.
A quick synopses of a smattering of stories:
- A young man yearns to prove himself on the basketball court of a rag-tag and tough neighborhood. It’s a coming of age story that redefines what it means to break down expectations of masculinity amongst peers.
- A young girl copes with the butterflies in her stomach when a new student arrives at school. This is a story that examines loneliness and gathering up the courage to just be yourself. This one was propelled by a series of humorous inner monologues.
- A young Chinese girl is arranged to be married to a stranger. But she aspires toward higher goals. Her gaze is fixed upon the high seas and adventures with pirates. Through grit and grit alone does she lift herself up by her boot straps and endeavor to better her situation.
- A young man travels throughout Europe with his spunky grandmother who continually coaxes him to come out of his shell. He’s a determined bookworm who is reluctant to enjoy himself. But he soon finds himself swayed by the allure of summer and the potential for self-discovery.
The production values of this audio book are stellar as well. The readers are an eclectic motley crew of talent and they firm up the narrative experience well throughout. A vivid and crisp image is implanted firmly into our mind’s eye. It’s immersive and laden with emotional weight. The readings are sincere and the inflections appropriate and executed well. When aurally auspicious, there was even something akin to a detached enthusiasm when speaking from the point of view of an angst-ridden teenager. No easy tone to capture. But achieved singularly here.
The diversity of themes is what really captured my imagination. These are stories that teens should be able to identify with easily and with gusto. Themes include a lifelong love of reading, female empowerment, and the determination required to overcome obstacles. The subject matter is emphatically empathetic and should appeal to a wide teenage audience.
As a whole, the stories complement one another masterfully. They’re well curated and represent a wide spectrum of voices. There’s a little bit of something for everyone and it casts a wide net in terms of appeal. The stories are diverse in characters, social issues, and implements a kaleidoscope of voices throughout. The ambiance and seamless tonal shifts range from feisty and humorous to forlorn and somber. The stories all contextualized as a whole display a remarkable narrative dexterity.
All in all, it’s an overwhelmingly charming audio book. One that I expect will bring much joy and newly acquired insights to teens willing to lend an ear.
— Tommy Bui
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, narrated by Austin Butler and Emily Rankin
Audiobook published by: HarperAudio
Publication Date: 1/17/2017
On the planet of Thuvhe is the independent nation of Shotet, ruled by Cyra Noavek’s brother Ryzek, a tyrannical leader bent on assuming power over all of Thuvhe and developing strategic alliances with other planets in the Assembly of nations.
Outside of Shotet, across an expanse of feathergrass, live Shotet’s enemies, the rest of the planet’s citizens known as the Thuvhesits. There, Akos Kereseth and his siblings grew up with their mother, an oracle who can see visions of the future, and their father, a farmer.
Ryzek kidnaps Akos and his brother Eijeh, believing Eijeh is the oracle he needs to reverse a fated fall from power. Akos’ and Cyra’s paths intertwine when Akos is designated her servant. His currentgift, or special skill, is to ease Cyra’s crippling pain from her currentgift, the ability to feel and incur torturous physical pain which Ryzek uses to punish his opponents.
The power imbalance in Akos and Cyra’s relationship evolves into a tentative friendship and attraction, despite the enemy status of their nations. The stakes are raised when Cyra throws in her lot with the renegades, a shadow band of rebels who plan to assassinate Ryzek.
Butler and Rankin share solid narration duties as Akos and Cyra, respectively. Their pacing is deliberate, underscoring the complex tension between Akos and Cyra, and the suspense of a rumbling rebellion. Butler’s Akos is tormented and brooding; Rankin voices Cyra as cynical and wounded but strong. Together their performances are complementary and compelling. Suggest this opening volume of a new science fiction/fantasy series to fans of Young Elites by Marie Lu, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and Roar by Cora Carmack.
— Beatriz Pascual Wallace and Erin Durrett