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Great Road Trip Audiobooks for Teens (And their Parents!)

photo by Flickr user Julien Sanine
photo by Flickr user Julien Sanine

It’s summertime and you know what that means: sunny skies, windows down, time to take a road trip! If you haven’t discovered the joys of audiobooks, summer road trips are the perfect time to dive into this medium. What could be better than having a book read to you? Have a talented, professional actor perform a book for you. The miles will fly by as you listen to a story come to life when presented by great voice talents.  But if you are traveling this summer with your family, choosing an audiobook can become complicated. You want a book that will be of interest to everyone, no matter their age, but you also want to avoid embarrassing plot lines. The Hub is here to help you.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury read by Scott Brick the-martian-chronicles-book-cover
First published in 1950, this book is a “future history” of Mars. It is a set of connected short stories that together, tell of the people of Earth colonizing Mars and of how folks from Earth become Martians after a long enough time. It is beautifully written, as so many Bradbury works are, and it is hopeful yet grounded too. Scott Brick is an experienced and talented narrator whose smooth voice imparts all the drama and solemnity of humans making their way on an alien world. His voice trembles with rage and fear, soothes with velvet tones, and practically shouts with excitement when talking about rocket ships. These old fashioned tales are entertaining for all ages.

Reaready player onedy Player One by Ernest Cline read by Wil Wheaton
In the future, life is so terrible that most people escape into a virtual reality video game called OASIS. OASIS was created by a super rich, super smart techie who had a love of all things 80’s. This mastermind hid a puzzle inside the game. If players figure out the puzzle, they will inherit the game creator’s fortune! Needless to say, playing becomes vicious and potentially deadly. Actor Wil Wheaton, best known for his turn on Star Trek: The Next Generation performs Cline’s wonderfully kitschy dystopia with gleeful, nerdy energy. And I mean that in the best way. Families that enjoy pop culture and games and science fiction will get a kick out of this simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic novel.

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen read by Kirby Heyborne skink audio
Hiaasen writes great, goofy, strong characters and it is delightful to hear narrator Heyborne having fun, bringing them to life with his performance. The story is set in the wilderness of Florida’s rivers, where 14 year old Richard teams up with wild man Skink to find and rescue Richard’s cousin Malley from a kidnapper. The amazing descriptions will make listeners feel they are in a swamp, while Heyborne’s performance of young girls, teen boys, concerned moms, old men, and 20-something lowlifes is a delight.

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Hit the Road with a Road Trip Book

With summer in full swing, July seems like the perfect time for a road trip, doesn’t it? Even if you can’t hit the road right now, you can live vicariously by kicking back with a good book about a road trip.

Road trips are an enduring theme in YA lit. The concept of a road trip really seems to speak to the teen psyche. It’s a physical journey that can represent an emotional journey toward personal growth and change — which is what the teen years are all about, after all. In going from one place to another, the traveler is transformed as they see new sights, meet new people, and rise to whatever challenges they encounter along the way. One who experiences a road trip is no longer the exact same person who started out in the beginning of the trip. By the end of trip, they’ve grown up a little.

A road trip also represents freedom, especially if there are no parents involved. It can be a tantalizing escape. The travelers set the rules, set the route, decide when to start and stop, and when to deviate from the route. In other words, every teen’s dream.

All of that said, let’s face it — the allure of the road trip is often more glamorous than the reality: hours spent in the car with monotonous scenery and conversations that dwindle after the first hour. But hey, it can be fun to read about!

Photo by Emlyn Stokes

After sampling a number of books on this topic, I believe I’ve determined the recipe for a truly excellent road trip story:

  1. An interesting vehicle, preferably with a nickname
  2. A conflicted relationship that will (hopefully) be resolved during the long drive
  3. Self-discovery
  4. An awesome soundtrack

Let’s see how three recently published road trip books stack up…

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That Was Then, This Is Now: Midnight Hour Encores

I’m about to read a book that I read many times in high school, and as an adult librarian often referenced as a great book: Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks.

Unlike my previous re-reads (P.S. I Love You and There’s a Bat in Bunk Five), this is what I considered one of the more “serious” books that I liked to read. In fact, lacking the phrase “realistic fiction” I usually just described this category as “regular books.” Here’s what I remember: a girl (who calls her father Taxi) asks to meet her mother. Because her father is such a unique individual he buys an authentic VW van and takes her on a road trip to meet her mother in San Francisco–all to help her understand that when her mother walked out on her (as a baby) it was because she was a free-spirited hippie who couldn’t be burdened with conventional motherhood. This is all news to the girl. The girl is an extremely talented cellist and makes her trip to San Francisco coincide with an audition for a prestigious music school. That’s the plot, but here are the feelings I remember: being in awe of her musical talent, thinking that her father was just so amazing, and finding it very inspiring all in all. I liked books about serious and talented teens and I thought this was one of the best books I had read. (Even then, though, I knew that the cover was total rubbish.) Let’s see if I still agree….