Click here to see all of the current Amazing Audiobooks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee; narrated by: Scott Keiji Takeda, Dan Woren, Ryan Potter, Ali Fumiko, Sophie Oda, Andrew Kishino, Christopher Naoki Lee, Grace Rolek, Erika Aishii, Brittany Ishibashi, Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa, and Terry Kitagawa
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: September 1, 2020
Fourteen Japanese American teens are cruelly taken from their San Francisco homes to internment camps purportedly to protect the U.S. west coast from Japanese espionage or sabotage during World War II. The Nissei’s stories start the same, but have many different outcomes as they make their choices and too many choices are made for them.
With fourteen characters to get to know and love, each of their stories are a heart wrenching look at the realities of U.S. internment of Japanese Americans and the consequences of that action. Narration by a cast of voices brings the sometimes funny, sometimes somber and pained voices of each teen to life.
For more books about Japanese American internment, try This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda and They Called Us Enemy the graphic novel by #ownvoices author George Takei.
The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg; narrated by Marin Ireland
Release date: September 1, 2020
Two kids on a bridge, planning to jump and end it all. Does one jump? The other? Both? Neither? Aaron and Tillie are strangers when they see each other on the bridge. The consequences of their choices to live or die spool out into potential futures affecting families, friends, and even far off possibilities.
An examination of the causes and effects of suicide, The Bridge is told in a heartbreaking yet joyful and hopeful way. Dealing with suicide, bullying, depression and other mental illness with a storyteller’s touch, Kognigsberg’s treatment of difficult topics is thought provoking. Ireland’s narration gives each character their own voice and adds life to the story.
For other books dealing with suicide ideation, consider All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, or The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. For deeper exploration of mental illnesses, try Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, or Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram for a light touch.
Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne; Narrated by Karen Chilton
Publication Date: April 24, 2020
Dionne traces the right to vote from the earliest abolition movement through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and up to the challenges facing voters present day with particular focus on Black women’s contributions. Special profiles are given to such historical figures as Sojourner Truth, Ida B Wells and Mary McLeod Bethune, highlighting how each of them contributed to the abolition and suffrage movements and the challenges each faced.
Chilton does an especially good job with reenactments of famous speeches like Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I A Woman. The narration is engaging and compelling, even though the subject matter can be dense at times. The information is presented in a clear and easy to follow manner, and the struggles that Black voters continue to face are apparent.
This title will make a great companion piece to Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights by Lawrence Goldstone, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds. For fictional titles about voter suppression and civil rights, suggest Clean Getaway by Jason Reynolds and The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert.
Lux: The New Girl (Flyy Girls Book 1) by Ashley Woodfolk; Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Lux Lawson is out of chances. After another fight at school and a suspension, her mother decides it is time for her father to take over parental duties, meaning Lux has to leave Brooklyn behind and live in New York where, with some pulled strings, she is accepted to Augusta Savage School of Arts in Harlem. If she isn’t successful there, then she will be off to military school. Lux is accepted into the Flyy Girls; a group of girls that seem like they can get away with anything. Lux wants a fresh start and to leave her past behind her, but will the girls accept her if they know her fighting past?
Having lived independently in the past, this is a chance for Lux to have true friendship. Abbott-Pratt’s narration captures Lux’s edge and vulnerability, adding to the characterization in this fast-paced novella.
For more books where girls are trying to redefine themselves, try The Evolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, American Panda by Gloria Chao, and Who Put this Song On by Morgan Parker. Lux as an artist is a key element of the book, for more books where art is explored try Sorry for Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
Micah: The Good Girl (Flyy Girls Book 2) by Ashley Woodfolk; Narrated by Imani Parks
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Micah Dupree is one of the Flyy Girls; a group of girls that seem like they can get away with anything. Always seen as the “good girl,” following rules, going to church, and obeying her parents, she starts to question her dutiful role after her star brother’s death. Now, plagued with sometimes crippling anxiety following the accident that took her brother’s life, she is working with a therapist where she works to unpack her complicated feelings around living up to others expectations, wanting to lose her virginity, and make choices of her own.
This fast moving novella will grip listeners, and Parks’ youthful narration adds to Micah’s characterization bringing out her innate sweet and caring nature. The series that builds on the foundation of female friendship where individuality is valued gives Micah a support network outside of her therapist’s office, but doesn’t minimize the benefits of professional mental health assistance.
Listeners that appreciate a character-driven story that delves into the inner monologues of an individual figuring things out will also appreciate Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert. For more books that show healthy ways of dealing with grief and/or anxiety, try The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, and I Am Not Your Perfect American Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.
When the Stars Wrote Back by Trista Mateer; Narrated by Brittany Pressley
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
This collection of poems from Instagram poet Trista Mateer covers many topics, including growing up, relationships, trauma, and love. The poems are short-form, bite sized snippets of emotion that will resonate with teens. Mateer also grounds her works with encouragement and resilience, and imparts her listeners to be comfortable enough to take up space in the world.
Poems like Mateer’s are more visceral and emotional when read aloud, and narrator Brittney Pressley does a great job imbuing the text with feeling. Unlike some poetry collections, the differentiation between these short works was clear, so one poem does not bleed into the next on the audio track. This is a quick listen but one that readers will return to again and again.
Followers of Trista’s Instagram will enjoy this book, as it includes new pieces as well as some previously published on her social. If you enjoyed Light Filters In by Caroline Kaufman or Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, then this collection is for you.
— Annie Jansen
When The Call You a Terrorist; (Young Adult Edition) A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, asha bandele, and foreword by Angela Davis; Narrated by Angela Davis, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Hope, community, and persistence are the backdrop for this unflinching memoir of growing up in a world that continually and oppressively battles your existence. Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, was raised in a family and community impacted by poverty, systemic racism, and housing and food insecurity. At a young age she was witness to police brutality, and had to watch as her brother, who battled with mental illness, was abused by the system rather than get the treatment he desperately needed. A call to action for listeners, that shows family is both biological and found, and communities are stronger when they acknowledge Black lives matter.
An intro by activist icon Angela Davis sets the stage, and Khan-Cullors narration makes this intimate, personal, and immediate. Questions for readers at the end of each chapter will prompt listeners into deeper thinking about issues presented and even inspire action.
A must on any Anti-Racist reading/listening list, this is in good company with The Talk edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibrim X. Kendi, We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden, and Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott.
The New Queer Conscience:Pocket Change Collective by Adam Eli; Narrated by Adam Eli
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
In this installment of the intersectional Pocket Change Collective, Adam Eli, examines what it meant to grow up queer as an Orthadox Jew; two identities that have both suffered from persecution and discrimination. A goal to support queer people whenever possible, he gives listeners ten rules based on how queer people need to look out for each other, and shows there are many ways and opportunities for allyship.
Eli’s narration brings his text alive and conversational tone and anecdotes allow for the listener to be truly engaged in the work as he strives to underline how support among the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness.
Listeners may also like Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager, This Book is Gay b Juno Dawon, and The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell. Also check out documentaries Gaycation or Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History.
Imaginary Borders: Pocket Change Collective by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez; Narrated by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Publication date: June 2, 2020
Environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shows how he uses his art and his activism to raise awareness that climate change is a human right’s issue that can’t be ignored. Growing up in Colorado, Martinez has been an environmental activist since a young age, and shows that the environment crisis disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and people of color far more.
This is a call to action for the new generation to all see themselves in this type of activism, and to look for creative ways to raise awareness and take action. Listener’s will be compelled to make change by Martinez’ motivating reading infused with hip-hop, clarity, and passion.
A great companion to As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It by Jamie Margolin and One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet by Anuradha Rao.
This Is What I Know About Art: Pocket Change Collective by Kimberly Drew; Narrated by Kimberly Drew
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Activist and art curator and writer, Drew shows that the arts aren’t just for the elite, and art and activism are often interconnected. Drawing on personal experience, she shows how art and change are linked, along with discussions on tokenism, imposter syndrome and what it is like to be Black in an traditionally exclusionary field. From blogging to working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she shows her own path to create art spaces that are accessible to the disabled and inclusive to all that are often left in the margins when it comes to art.
Drew’s narration makes the subject matter personal and accessible to listeners, and the listener is challenged to think about how they can create space for the change.
Using art to create change, this is a good companion to Ashley Bryan’s Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace, as with memoirs such as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi. Also look for the documentaries Black Is the Color: A History of African American Art and Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace.
Spellhacker by M.K. England; Narrated by Marisol Ramirez
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Diz and her three best friends Jaesin, Ania, and Remi live in Kyrkarta, a city powered by magic (Maz) and full of technology – but only for the rich. Nothing comes easy for spellplague orphans like Diz. She’s had to fight tooth and nail for every comfort and advantage she has. The four friends have a side gig of illegally siphoning maz from pipes owned by a large corporation. They’re contracted to do one last job – but it goes horribly wrong.
Spellhacker combines science fiction technology with a bit of magic in a unique futuristic setting that’s not exactly dystopian. Conversations are had via implanted cell phones or text messages that pop up on the characters optic implants – but the narrator does a fantastic job distinguishing actual speech versus a message on a screen. Diz’s voice is authentic and full of emotion. There’s also enough humor to make you chuckle. Like M.K. England’s other book The Disasters, Spellhacker has great LGBT representation.
Other books with a motley crew of friends doing awesome things are Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan, The Disasters also by M.K. England, and Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.