#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 4

This round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature historical fiction and true tales of teens making history.

The Pearl Thief

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Maggie Service
Audio published by Brilliance Audiobook
Publication Date: 7/15/17

ISBN: 978-1484717165

Elizabeth Wein’s latest novel is another humdinger of a historical yarn. This little ditty is just drenched in dulcet dialogue and populated by an irresistible array of memorable characters. Featuring a feisty and charmingly spunky female protagonist with a certain derring-do that takes her to the heart of an engrossing murder mystery. Teenage Julie Beaufort-Stuart returns to her ancestral Scottish home for the summer and is quickly steeped in a conundrum involving pilfered pearls, country travelers, and one boggy corpse.

The Pearl Thief is a well-crafted coming-of-age tale that rings authentic and well-researched. It should appeal to young audiences for its vim, variety of characters, and velocity of narrative. It’s equal parts Harriet the Spy, Sherlock Holmes, and Scooby-Doo. Julie carries the plot effortlessly with her verve and sense of adventure but the accompanying characters also bring much to the story. Julie befriends two traveler siblings and together they tackle the case of the missing heirloom pearls that resulted in a dead body on the family estate. It’s very almost nearly a Nancy Drew Mystery Story.

The production values are also notably gorgeous. Maggie Service goes above and beyond to yank us into the story with her masterful narration. She inflects, she articulates, and she enchants with a number of voraciously veracious accents and brogues throughout. Her singing voice also drips with honey and we’re practically transported to those bonnie bryns of far-flung Strathfearn.

It’s a story that within the first few chapters we’re immediately entranced and our imaginations are promptly captured. The vernacular and attention to detail is astounding and it’s the small idiosyncrasies that delight us overwhelming as the narrative progresses. It’s made abundantly apparent to us how much research and consideration went into the crafting of these characters and environs. We’re convinced and whisked away within the first few chapters.  

The story is rich and multilayered in that it goes beyond the expectations of a conventional and straightforward murder-mystery. Though the story takes place prewar, it manages to still confront relevant issues of class struggles and gender equality and other contemporary moral lessons of our day. It imparts much and does so without being brazenly saccharine or didactic. It’s fine overall young adult fare.

The Pearl Thief is proper summer listening. So pop your earbuds in and give this thrilling little tale a twirl. It’s quite an arresting do-si-do.

–Tommy Vinh Bui, MLIS

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, narrated by Damaras Obi
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: 05/02/17
ISBN: 978-1-5247-7909-2

“By the time I was 15, I had been in jail nine times.”

So begins Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s compelling memoir of her experiences as a teenaged civil rights activist in the 1960s. Inspired by hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. speech on fighting for the right to vote, she began participating in children’s marches at age 13.  She describes how police used cattle prods on the marchers, and how the kids learned to bring their own lunches to marches because “jail food just wasn’t good.” She recounts being locked into the “sweatbox,” a hot jail cell with no lights, windows, bed, toilet or sink. The adults in the community strongly supported their children’s efforts, reassuring them, “We’ll take care of you.”

Lowery participated in the 1965 protest march in Selma that came to be known as Bloody Sunday. Angered by the way the protesters had been treated by the police, state troopers and Governor George Wallace, she joined Dr. King’s four-day march to the state capital of Montgomery, one day shy of turning 15. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.

Damaras Obi’s performance makes Lowery’s story highly accessible to teens of all ages. She opens with an a capella rendition of “Woke Up This Morning,” and closes with “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” two songs that kept Lowery inspired during her activism. Obi reads with a strength and intensity that brings the civil rights movement alive for listeners. Through her reading, one can imagine the level of Lowery’s personal endurance and strength of character.

The compelling urgency of this production makes this a must-listen for young people given the recent events of Charlottesville, Charleston, and high-profile police shootings of African Americans. Present this along with John Lewis’ “March” series, Cynthia Y. Levenson’s “We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March,” and Phillip M. Hoose’s “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.”

— Beatriz Pascual Wallace