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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 6

Today’s Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature charming and engaging coming of age narratives.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, narrated by Robbie Daymond
Audio published by Clarion Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 978-0544586505

Sal is beginning his senior year of high school. He feels he’s always lived a slow, predictable life with his adoptive gay dad, his dad’s family, and his best friend, Sam. The beginning of this school year, however, brings an identity crisis the likes of which Sal has never experienced. His emotions feel out of control, his family life is rapidly changing, and he’s spiraling. His grandmother, the only woman who’s played the motherly role in his life, is dying while his friend Fito’s mother is at risk of murdering Fito because of the drugs that she’s using. The only outlet for all of this stress that satisfies Sal is physical violence, and this makes him afraid of himself.

If a reader/listener is looking for suspense and action, this is not the book for them. That being said, this book is an emotional roller coaster, and readers/listeners will often feel sucked into the realism of the feelings, actions, and occurrences within the plot. The beauty of this book is the lyrical way in which Sáenz lays out all of these things. The language that Sáenz uses often reads like poetry, and Robbie Daymond’s reading captures the calm beneath the storm that is Sal’s emotion very well. Daymond’s portrays a senior teenager experiencing an identity crisis in a very realistic manner, which is crucial when considering the character components of an audiobook.

In many ways, Sáenz writes the characters like puzzle pieces. Separated, they are missing crucial components of the whole, but together, they make up a well-rounded, loving, and fully-fleshed family. Sal, who has been known his whole life to be a calm, quiet, even unemotional, is juxtaposed with his best friend Sam, who is loud, energetic, and overactive. Where Sal is reserved with his emotion and affection, his father and Sam seem to be open and willingly affectionate. Where Sal is unsure of how to voice his concern for these emotional and mental changes going on in his head, Fito and his grandmother have ways of verbalizing what Sal cannot express.

The complexity of Sal’s mental and emotional landscape during this transitional time in his life is appealing not only to young adults, but to adults as well. This is largely because the scope of his experiences is not the sort of thing that ends with adolescence. Rather, this scope of experience is the sort of thing that shapes the way an adolescent becomes an adult. Both young people and older adults can sympathize with Sal’s uncertainty of whether or not his anger is an inherent character flaw, something that is as deep as his DNA. People of all ages can empathize with the confusion and pain that stems from losing someone that you deeply loved. Most anyone can understand the scariness of not knowing whether you truly belong to your group.

Sáenz is very well-known for his lyrical writing style, and it can be found in his other titles as well (such as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe). Readers who like this book might also like the works of similar authors, including Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; The Upside of Unrequited), Shaun David Hutchinson (We Are the Ants; At the Edge of the Universe), and Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not; History Is All You Left Me).

— Katrina Ortega

 

See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, narrated by Kivlighan de Montebello
Audio published by Listening Library
Publication date: February 28, 2017
ISBN: 978-0399186370

This was a charming little tale of coming-of-age and acceptance and of the challenges and confusion of growing up. Eleven-year-old Alex Petrovki is a nut for outer space and pretty much every aspect of his life revolves around it somehow. He builds amateur rockets and has a dog named after his inimitable hero, Carl Sagan. And together they take to the road to compete in a rocket competition in the deserts of New Mexico. And he acquires some colorful acquaintances, experiences, and hard-earned insights along the way.

Told through a series of audio recordings that he intends to send into outer space for posterity, he is meticulous in preserving his excitement and anxieties throughout his misadventures. It provides the audience candid and unfettered access into the thoughts of this likable and precocious protagonist.

Equal parts October Sky, Rain Man, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we’re offered a window into the outlook of a math-whiz maven who, for all his intellectual acuity, is still very much isolated from the rest of his peers and society at large and still must grapple with the everyday quotidian of just being a kid. Alex is a fine protagonist. He’s stubbornly tenacious but also tenderly naïve, and he’s flawed but undergoes a considerable transformation throughout the course of the narrative. And we’re rooting for him every step of the way.

What really vivifies this yarn are the subtle brushes with a harsh reality that Alex struggles to understand. Very adult problems such as domestic abuse, mental illness, and familial grief. These serious issues are broached and approached with a certain degree of tact and understanding and often times only the audience is aware of the severity of these subjects. And we, along with Alex, come to terms with these morsels of turbulence and walk away with a bounty of profound life-lessons.

The production values are also worthy of note. The performers fully immerse themselves in their roles and convey a carousel of emotions in their voices. It’s well and convincingly acted. The pauses and measured pacing of the deliveries laced the plot with a fully-realized velocity. The story went by in a blink.

All in all, this is a story that will have mass appeal with a wide demographic. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of character development, plot momentum, and well-timed narrative beats that keep the audience engaged and thrilled throughout. It’s a burst of writerly propulsion that breaks the surly bonds of earth and ensures hours of ageless entertainment.

— Tommy Vinh Bui, MLIS