The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, narrated by Rebecca Soler
Audio Published by Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Alice Crewe and her mother Ella have moved all her life, and Alice has never been sure what exactly her mother is searching for–or running from. All she knows is that no matter what happens, her mother won’t let them return to the Hazel Wood, Alice’s grandmother’s vast estate. Alice has never met her grandmother, the infamous recluse Althea Proserpine, whose one book of fairy tales, Tales from the Hinterland, is an out-of-print cult classic–a classic Alice has never read, having her copy stolen. All she has is the table of contents, which includes “Alice Three Times,” a story she is certain she has a connection to. When Ella disappears, Alice’s classmate Ellery Finch, an Althea Prosperpine fanboy, teams up with Alice to find her, his ability to retell the stories from Althea’s book crucial to their search. Alice soon realizes that the Hinterland is real–and it’s after her.
Rebecca Soler’s Alice is sarcastic and cynical, but ultimately a dreamer. Her tone when recounting the Tales from the Hinterland is what you’d hope to hear from the best storytellers. What could be derivative or melodramatic is believable and authentic-sounding in Soler’s masterful narration.
The Hazel Wood will appeal to those who love when fairy tales bleed into real life but are looking for something a little darker and less familiar. It’s more The Magicians than The Land of Stories. Suggest it as a must-listen for those clamoring for the next Libba Bray, Zoraida Córdova, or Cat Winters.
–Sarah Hannah Gómez
American Panda by Gloria Chao, read by Emily Woo Zeller
Simon and Schuster Audio
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Mei Lu has just started her freshman year at MIT, gaining her first bit of independence from her Taiwanese-American family, but still close enough for weekly meals together at their favorite restaurant and her mom’s dorm room cleaning/snooping. Mei’s parents have charted a complete course for her life which includes her becoming a doctor and marrying an approved, successful young man also of Taiwanese background.
In actuality, Mei is a germaphobe who is thus terrified by the field of medicine, finds biology boring but loves traditional Chinese and modern dance, and is interested in the cute Japanese-American guy she met during orientation. A chance encounter with her disowned brother, Xing, becomes a catalyst which eventually leads Mei to face her growing discomfort with stifling her true self.
Audiobook narrator Emily Woo Zeller uses varied tones to enhance an already engaging story, deftly portraying character and mood. She captures everything from the intimacy of Mei’s innermost thoughts and the humor of her dry observations, to her mother’s slightly overwrought voicemails, to the occasional utterance of surprise or frustration by various characters at just the right moment. She is convincing in her voicing of characters diverse in age, gender, and ethnic background. Additionally, the fact that Woo Zeller is multilingual brings life and authenticity to the non-English words interspersed throughout the text.
If you like American Panda you may also enjoy Follow Your Heart by Tasha Nathan, the story of a Canadian teen of Sri Lankan background whose parents also want her to become a doctor, but who would rather write. Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate and Other Filters is another suggested read-alike, about an Indian Muslim teen whose parents’ hopes for her are at odds with her desire to attend film school. This book should also appeal to fans of the hit TV series Fresh Off the Boat.