This round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees are great stories told in unusual formats.
Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess, narrated by Kwame Alexander and Randy Preston (original music)
Audio Published by Zondervan
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Solo tells the story of seventeen year old Blade Morrison. Blade, like his father, is a talented musician; but unlike his father, he’s steadier, sober and less haunted by his mother’s death. Blade has a comfortable yet difficult life. His dad is wealthy, so he never needs to worry about money or how to pay for his future. He has a girlfriend, Chapel, with whom he plans to attend college. Yet Blade is constantly in the public eye, because his father is not only famous, but infamous for the stunts he pulls when he’s under the influence. Blade, who is more self-possessed that most teenage kids with famous substance abusing fathers and self-involved sisters, is learning truths about himself that are throwing his world into a tailspin. His relationship with his girlfriend, which had to be secret due to her parent’s disapproval, falls apart after her parents catch them together. Then, during a fight with his sister and father, his sister reveals that Blade is in fact adopted. Once he learns this, Blade decides to track down his birth mother. He discovers that his mother works for a nonprofit that helps people in third world countries. Determined to find his mother, he visits Chapel to say goodbye and discovers her with her ex-boyfriend. Blade heads to Ghana heartbroken from the breakup with his girlfriend and the feeling of betrayal since his adoption was kept secret from him for so long. Once in Ghana, Blade meets Joy, a local girl his age who helps him understand the difficulty and beauty in a simpler life. Blade’s father surprises him by showing up in Ghana with a film crew to film his big comeback in the music industry. Ghana has enough magic to eventually reconcile Blade and his father. Blade is able to meet his birth mother, Lucy, and fill in some gaps about his own personal history.
This book is meant to be listened to, not read. The experience of listening to Kwame Alexander read his own lyrical poetic story and incorporate originally performed music should not be missed. While short in length, this story has great impact and touches on a lot of themes, such as finding oneself, learning forgiveness, understanding the world around oneself and discovering what’s truly important. Critics have chastised how un-relatable Blade is, being the kid of a famous wealthy rock star. What they fail to realize is that substance abuse, loss, grief, and general turmoil are universal topics that affect us all. This is a great short novel about making the decision to confront your past and let yourself grow past it.
The arching self-discovery in this book will appeal to all teens. Unlike The Crossover and Booked, the target audience of this story is truly young adult, not middle grade. Fans of this book may also like Alexander’s other work due to his unique writing style, or other musically inclined titles such as Wonderful Feels Like This by Swedish author Sara Lövestam.
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, narrated by a full cast
Audio published by Dreamscape Media
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
I was fairly skeptical about listening to the audiobook version of a graphic novel. When reading a graphic novel, the illustrations provide as much information, if not more, than the text. I wondered how this would translate into audio format. What would Maus be without the Nazis portrayed as rats? The Honor Girl audiobook is just over two hours long, so I figured I could try out this unfamiliar format without investing a lot of time. Surprisingly, Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash was a treat to listen to.
Honor Girl is a memoir by author Maggie Thrash of her time at Camp Bellflower, an all-girls camp, which focuses on a summer of burgeoning sexuality as she falls for one of her counselors. A 15 year-old Maggie spends the summer coming to terms with her sexuality while worrying others will see her as weird, much like the “horse girls” from a previous summer. I quickly became engaged in Maggie’s story.
I found this audiobook to be amazing because of the way the sense of summer fits into the narration. The sounds of camp are wound throughout the story. A full cast reads the book, bringing life to the many characters. Maggie’s emotions are conveyed through the capable narrator. The sounds and clearly articulated characters were able to fill in for the artwork that would otherwise communicate the narrative. With the sound of hairspray, we are in the cabin as the girls prepare for the visit from the boys’ camp. Maggie’s a talented shooter and the listener can hear the rifle range as though they were witnessing her shots themselves. After I finished the audiobook, I read the graphic novel to see how they compared. To me, the audio version was superior. The performance was fabulous. I can’t recommend it enough.
In February, when you are longing for summer, along with Honor Girl, try the anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, which will fill the void caused by winter. Last year, the YALSA Amazing Audiobooks committee selected Nimona by Noelle Stevenson as one of their Top Ten. It, like Honor Girl, is a graphic novel, so if you’re willing to give them a try, there are some great graphic novel audiobooks (as much of an oxymoron as it sounds) out there.
–Kennedy Penn-O’Toole, Young Adult Specialist, Albany County Public Library, Wyoming