These 10 titles represent the best of the best of 2016’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.
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. S. & S. Audio. Read by Guy Lockard. Gr 5-8.
When 11-year-old Genie and his almost 14-year-old brother, Ernie, visit their grandparents for a month, Genie manages to learn surprising family stories and secrets, including the truth about a model fire truck that seemingly belongs to no one and why Grandpop carries a gun. With compassion and humor, Reynolds deftly explores life lessons about family bonds, growing up, and the meaning of true courage. Lockard embodies Genie’s curiosity, excitement, and well-earned wisdom with pitch-perfect accuracy.
Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman. Recorded Books. Read by Katherine Kellgren. Gr 3-6.
A dark cloud is turning Grayling’s demanding hedgewitch mother and other “wise folk” into trees. After she assembles her mother’s potions and learns her songs, the teen sets out to find her mother’s stolen grimoire, leading an assortment of companions who all contribute their unique talents to help her achieve her goal. Kellgren’s superior narration fills the magical story with clear, melodic singing and unique vocal styles for each character.
The Haters by Jesse Andrews. Listening Library. Read by Michael Crouch. Gr 10 Up.
Sixteen-year-old Wes and Corey go to jazz camp and immediately hate it. After teaming up with a fellow hater, 19-year-old Ash, the teens decide to run away from camp, form a band, and go on tour. Romantic entanglements, comical misadventures, and even some music making ensue in this rollicking ramble. Crouch’s comic timing makes this audiobook special, and his fresh and youthful voices will allow listeners to easily picture the characters.
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly. HarperAudio. Read by Lulu Lam. Gr 3-6.
Soledad and her younger sister, Ming, are transplanted from their home in the Philippines to a run-down apartment in Louisiana, where they are abandoned by their father and left with an abusive stepmother. Sol has always been able to escape into stories, but now she needs to figure out how to navigate their new world. Lam effortlessly blends a wide variety of emotions, backgrounds, and intensities as she tells Kelly’s nuanced, resonating story about life between two cultures, surviving loss, and finding family in the least expected places.
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart. Listening Library. Read by Ryan Gesell & Michael Crouch. Gr 5-8.
Lily was assigned male at birth but has always felt she is a girl; she’s pressuring her family to give her hormone blockers as she races toward puberty. Norbert (who hates that name but loves Dunkin’ Donuts) has bipolar disorder. During school, bullies attack Lily with insults while courting gigantic Dunkin to strengthen their basketball team’s chance at a championship. The conclusion is both satisfying and provocative, and the narration is excellent.
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic Audiobooks. Read by Frankie Corzo. Gr 7 Up.
Vicky Cruz planned her suicide attempt so nobody would find her until well after the pills did their job, but she woke up in the hospital. There, she meets three other teens who also have mental illness. Along with empathetic psychiatrist Dr. Desai, they become the force she needs to get through her chilling and near-fatal depression. This excellent fictional look at teen depression is enhanced by Corzo’s pacing, steadiness, and inflection.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Listening Library. Read by Benita Robledo & Lincoln Hoppe. Gr 9 Up.
The 1937 school explosion in New London, TX, remains the deadliest school disaster in U.S. history. With that real-life tragedy as a starting point, Pérez addresses issues of race, class, and family dysfunction, introducing a love story between two teens from different worlds. Robledo moves effortlessly between rigid control and panicked acceleration, imbuing the multiple viewpoints with authenticity and empathy, while Hoppe’s near-growling interruptions as “The Gang,” a collective representation of racist classmates, remain menacing throughout.
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. Listening Library. Read by Jayne Entwistle, Allen Corduner, & Fiona Hardingham. Gr 7 Up.
In post-Crusades 13th-century France, Dolssa de Stigata, a pious young noblewoman blessed with the gift of healing, is judged a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church and sentenced to burn at the stake. After someone cuts the ropes binding her hands and feet and implores her to run, Dolssa is found nearly dead from starvation and exhaustion by a young tavern keeper, Botille, who vows to protect her. Brilliant narration enhances this lush, compelling story.
28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr. Live Oak. Read by a full cast. Gr 2-5.
Highlighting individuals from Crispus Attucks to Barack Obama, this presentation offers a rich overview of African American history. The stellar narrators—Dion Graham, William Jackson Harper, Zainab Jah, January LaVoy, Robin Miles, Lizan Mitchell, Jonathan Earl Peck, and Carter Woodson Redwood—bring the words to life. Rich, lyrical voices unite to proclaim freedom, rejoice in justice, and impart information, while occasional appropriate background music and sound effects enhance the production.
Yellow by Megan Jacobson. Brilliance. Read by Marny Kennedy.
Gr 9 Up.
Fourteen-year-old Australian Kirra Barley is bullied at school, her mother drinks heavily, and her father has left. Then she answers a ringing pay phone at the beach, and the ghost of a dead teenager promises to help with her problems if she’ll prove he was murdered. Kennedy’s narration of this exceptional coming-of-age story perfectly captures Kirra at this critical point in her life, conveying her desperation and loneliness as well as her resilience and strength.
Stephanie Klose is audiobooks editor, SLJ.