February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Realistic fiction tackles teen issues while it entertains listeners | Listen In


The challenge of motivating busy teens to read for pleasure can be resolved with audiobooks, a portable and enjoyable way to stay engaged with literature. Consummate multitaskers, teens often enjoy listening while cleaning their rooms, playing video games, exercising, doing chores, as part of their morning routine, or before falling asleep at night. This month we’ve gathered a diverse selection of stories featuring teen protagonists facing many different challenges and situations. Share these for some excellent listening.

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. 2 CDs. 2:30 hrs. Recorded Books. 2014. $25.75. ISBN 9781490627571.

Gr 5-9 –In this basketball novel, written in free verse with fast-paced, alliterative rhyming, Josh Bell, aka Filthy McNasty, and his twin, Jordan, are the champions of their school team. They learn the rules of life along with those of the game. Corey Allen’s poignant narration with spot-on pacing intensifies the strong emotional pull of Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Award–winning text.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Listening Library. 2004. $45. ISBN 9781400089987.

Gr 8 Up –Internalizing a traumatic event, high school freshman Melinda suffers from hysterical muteness, but although Melinda cannot speak, she has much to say about how she became a social outcast. Narrator Mandy Siegfried’s effectively captures Melinda’s inner turmoil, her struggle to maintain normal activities, the growth of her artistic talent, and the slow unfolding of her will to survive.

Cameron, Emma. Out of This Place. 3 CDs. 3:19 hrs. Brilliance. 2013. $54.97. ISBN 9781469274973.

Gr 9 Up –In this novel in verse, good friends Luke, Casey, and David (aka Bongo) relate their own perspectives on contemporary high school life, clearly demonstrating their strong desire to be “out of this place,” away from the challenges and hardships they face at home. Narrators Candice Moll, Leonardo Nam, and David Atlas fluidly convey emotional distress and authentically portray Australian accents, idioms, and culture for American listeners.

Green, John. Paper Towns. 7 CDs. 8 hrs. Brilliance. 2008. $49.97. ISBN 9781455870141.

Gr 9 Up –Dan John Miller provides the perfect voice for brilliant high school senior Quentin as he sets off to find his inscrutable neighbor, Margo Roth Speigelman, who’s vanished. What he learns on his quest is that he never really knew Margo at all—and it changes his life. Green’s witty, thoughtful text is well-matched to Miller’s insightful vocal interpretation.

Johnson, Angela. A Certain October. 3 CDs. 3 hrs. Listening Library. 2013. $30. ISBN 9780804123242.

Gr 9 Up –Spare, emotionally charged prose highlights this novel of grief, compassion, sexual awakening, and friendship. Sixteen-year-old Scotty is devastated when a classmate dies in a horrible train wreck that also leaves her younger brother with autism in a coma. With her own family life in chaos, Scotty leans on her friends and their families to cope with her anguish. Harlie Vaughn breathes life into the wide cast of characters.

King, A.S. Ask the Passengers. 7 CDs. 8:05 hrs. Listening Library. 2012. $50. ISBN 9780449015117.

Gr 9 Up –High school senior Astrid deals with stress brought on by family, friends, and doubts about her sexual orientation by sending love to passengers flying high above her small, rural town. Narrator Devon Sorvari’s flat affect is the perfect foil for the turmoil surrounding this intelligent and thoughtful teen.

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. 5 CDs. 6:28 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $35. ISBN 9780804168410.

Gr 9 Up –Each summer, four teens gather on the private island of the privileged family to which three of them belong. The fourth, whose family is from India, is related by marriage, and his presence raises ugly issues of racism. Told from the point of view of Cadence, who suffers terrible headaches and frightening memory loss, this story will have listeners on the edge of their seats. Ariadne Meyers’s appropriately youthful voicing of the characters conveys all of the fear, tension, and heartbreak.

Lowry, Lois. A Summer to Die. 3 CDs. 3:26 hrs. Blackstone. 2014. $49. ISBN 9781481517485.

Gr 7 Up –Lowry’s first novel, initially published in 1977, is introduced to a new generation of teens through Andi Arndt’s nuanced narration. Even though Meg and Molly have a rocky relationship, Meg is deeply upset when she begins to suspect that something is really wrong with her sister. Arndt conveys the emotional anguish of this family crisis with well-modulated voicing.

Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. 7 CDs. 7:15 hrs. Recorded Books. 2015. $77.75. ISBN 9781490660028.

Gr 9 Up –Family, friends, gang members, neighbors, and a minister offer perspectives after a black teen, 16-year-old Tariq, is killed by a white gunman. Cherise Boothe and a full cast reveal conflicting viewpoints in the community, while heightening the emotional tension and pulling listeners into a neighborhood that knows too much grief and has too little hope.

Quick, Matthew. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. digital download. 6:30 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2013. $19.98. ISBN 9781478979777.

Gr 9 Up –Noah Galvin’s spirited narration embodies the despair of a teen who was abandoned by both parents and left to struggle with life’s difficulties on his own. He decides to kill his former best friend, then himself, but first he wants to say goodbye to four people. In this thoughtful, taut production, Noah Galvin manages the circuitous story line well through varied pacing and inflection.

Quintero, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. 7 CDs. 7:59 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $55. ISBN 9781101917039.

Gr 9 Up –In a series of diary entries written over the course of her senior year, Gabi highlights struggles with family, friends, self-image, and her Mexican American culture. Quintero’s debut novel features introspection and humor intensified by Kyla Garcia’s outstanding narration. Her ability to move between Spanish and English enhances the cultural atmosphere of the book.

Shabazz, Ilyasah & Kekla Magoon. X. 8 CDs. 9:04 hrs. Brilliance. 2014. $74.97. ISBN 9781491502457.

Gr 8 Up –This fictionalized account of the life of civil rights icon Malcolm X features themes of deprivation, discrimination, and anger that mask young Malcolm’s intelligence and drive to outwit his repressive environment as he moves from street hustling and prison to a transformative conversion to the Nation of Islam. Deft character voicing showcases narrator Dion Graham’s masterful, dramatic performance. An author’s note and time line provide further historical background.

Sharon Grover is head of youth services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI. Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was a school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement.

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.