These 10 titles represent the best of the best of 2015’s audiobook releases, with selections for all age groups and interests. They tell fascinating stories—both fiction and nonfiction—that are enhanced by exceptional narration and production values.
Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum. Listening Library. Gr 8 Up. Read by Tim Federle.
In 1969, during a police raid of the Mafia-run Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in New York City, the crowd of mostly young gay men stood firm, refusing to be treated like second-class citizens any longer. The ensuing riot broke down barriers and served as a catalyst for more activism. Bausum brings this historical event to life in a way young adults will relate to, painting the time period clearly and giving details that will engage all listeners. The work begins as an account of the days leading up to the unrest and covers the event and its aftermath, continuing on to become a history of almost the entire gay rights movement. Federle narrates the audiobook at a lively pace, sprinkling in unique character voices for every person quoted.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Hachette Audio. Gr 8 Up. Read by Lauren Fortgang.
A small town, pairs of siblings, a beautiful horned boy who has been entombed in a clear casket for as long as anyone in the town can remember, and a dark forest inhabited by fae folk of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments—these are just a few of the elements Black blends together to create this riveting and engrossing story that pits four teens against an evil ruler. Fortgang perfectly narrates this dark tale.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. Recorded Books. K-Gr 2. Read by Lizan Mitchell.
In this beautiful, touching tribute to an intergenerational relationship between a boy and his grandmother, CJ and his Nana take the bus home after church on Sundays, unlike some of his friends, who jump in their family cars and drive away. CJ’s envy is understandable, but Nana’s positive outlook on the many advantages of their journey soon influences CJ to view his trip differently. Nana’s commentary inspires CJ and listeners to find the beauty in the mundane and the treasure in the trivial. This gem is enhanced by Mitchell’s sensitive narration.
George by Alex Gino. Scholastic Audiobooks. Gr 4-6. Read by Jamie Clayton.
Melissa is in fourth grade. More than anything, she wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. Unfortunately, the world sees Melissa as George, not as the girl she is. Melissa doesn’t wonder if she is transgender; she questions how to explain this discrepancy to the world. Reactions of those around Melissa range from her best friend Kelly’s support to her teacher’s judgmental attitude. Well-meaning comments from her mother remind listeners of the impact of words. As Melissa struggles with bullying, listeners will find themselves championing her. Clayton, an outstanding actress and a voice in the trans community, delivers a sensitive reading.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai. Harper Audio. Gr 6-8. Read by Lulu Lam.
Mai (though at school in Laguna Beach she’s known as Mia) is a seventh-grade valley girl who is expected to accompany her grandmother on an all-summer visit to Vietnam. Bà fled Vietnam with her children during the fall of Saigon and doesn’t know what happened to her husband, Mai’s grandfather. Occasionally using her rudimentary Vietnamese, Mai tells the story as she frets over her oily T-zone, her crush back home, bloodthirsty mosquitoes, and, OMG, dial-up Internet! At the same time, Mai revels in the sights and tastes of crowded cities and rural villages, eventually embracing even awkward traditions as she comes to appreciate her heritage. Narrator Lam beautifully manages the ending uptick of valley-girl inflections and the tonal variations of Vietnamese.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Blackstone. Gr 8 Up. Read by Eileen Stevens.
Willowdean Dickson is comfortably self-aware, buoyed by her late aunt, whom she still deeply mourns, and her picture-perfect best friend. When she introduces herself to coworker Bo, a private school jock and hottie, she’s direct, describing herself as a “cashier, Dolly Parton enthusiast, and resident fat girl.” Working late most nights, Will and Bo fall into a giddy summer romance—until the reality of the coming school year erodes Will’s trust in Bo and, unexpectedly, her belief in herself. In hopes of reclaiming her bold, spunky spirit, Will enters a beauty pageant, shocking her mother, a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet. Her audacity inspires the most unlikely group of supporters. Stevens’s multifaceted voice gives Willowdean prodigious range—sweet and snarky, fearless and funny, determined and doleful, too.
This Side of Wild by Gary Paulsen. S. & S. Audio. Gr 5-8. Read by Fred Sanders.
In this memoir, Paulsen shares anecdotes about the ways dogs, horses, birds, and other creatures have touched and shaped his life. Listeners are introduced to dogs such as Corky, a toy poodle whose unfailing instinct protects Paulsen from grizzly bear attacks; Josh, a horseback-riding border collie; and Gretchen, a coffee drinker with an uncanny ability to converse with humans via head nods. Paulsen also describes encounters with wild animals, such as moose, coyotes, bees, ravens, and rattlesnakes. Narrator Sanders expertly voices this production, making listeners feel like they are actually out in the Alaskan bush or barren desert experiencing these animal encounters for themselves.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. Recorded Books. Gr 9 Up. Read by Georgia King & Sandy Rustin.
In alternating narratives that ultimately converge in supernatural ways, two girls share a connection, though, ostensibly, their stories are separated by three years. Violet is an 18-year-old ballet dancer, recently graduated and soon to start at Juilliard. Amber is incarcerated at a juvenile detention center for allegedly killing her abusive stepfather. Tying them together is Orianna, Violet’s best friend, who becomes Amber’s cellmate at Aurora Hills. King gives Violet’s voice an edge that perfectly conveys the sense of superiority she displays. Rustin utilizes a more matter-of-fact tone that reflects Amber’s observational nature and her tendency to use first-person plural, speaking for the inmates of Aurora Hills as a whole, paradoxically obscuring and foreshadowing future events.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Theresa Toten. Listening Library. Gr 7 Up. Read by Johnathan McClain.
Fifteen-year-old Adam’s life is a melting pot of teenage angst as he balances his commitment to his divorced parents, his mother’s (ultimately destructive) secret, and his escalating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The pot gets stirred when Robyn Plummer enters room 13B and the Young Adult OCD Support Group; Adam falls flat out in love. Adam, “the horse whisperer of Group,” feels compelled to save everyone who enters his life, which tends to accelerate his OCD tendencies, including counting and tapping and having difficulty crossing thresholds. Yet in order to save others, he must first save himself. Narrator McClain is fabulous at voicing the eclectic cast, perfectly capturing Adam, especially the thoughts that zip through our hero’s frazzled mind.
The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War. Brilliance. Gr 5-8. Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, & Nick Podehl.
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, Germany and the Allies signed the truce ending the Great War, as World War I was then called. Here 11 authors—Tanya Lee Stone, Marcus Sedgwick, David Almond, Timothée de Fombelle, A.L. Kennedy, Ursula Dubosarsky, Michael Morpurgo, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Sheena Wilkinson, and Adèle Geras—have each contributed a short story built around an artifact from the era, including a helmet, a compass, a recruitment poster, and a Christmas tin, to introduce the time period to middle grade students. The historical fiction pieces come to life in the rich voices of performers Evers-Swindell, Jackson, Doyle, Halverson, Coomes, and Podehl.