YA audiobooks

These audiobooks for young adults speak to important topics in engaging ways.

This is a gripping audio version of A.S. King's Dig., a YA novel with so many characters that each chapter begins with a cast list. Three of the characters get their own readers — Mike Chamberlain, Kirby Heyborne, and the outstanding Tonya Cornelisse — while author King does a passionate and compelling job with all the others. King's story of a family poisoned from its beginnings by racism and selfishness is rich and complex; funny at times, heartbreaking at others, with its depictions of drug abuse and grim sexual violence. The structure weaves the characters in and out until by the end the listener has figured out most of the many connections among them. The author's note is included, asking teens, "How do you put up with this crap?" (Listening Library, 14 years and up)

In Lovely War's frame story, the goddess Aphrodite recounts a tale of true romance, expertly voiced by Jayne Entwistle, humanizing the tragedy of WWI and conveying tender passion. Author Julie Berry's main narrative thread, voiced by Allan Corduner, connects two couples — a British soldier and his first love; a young Belgian woman and a doughboy from Harlem — delivering Berry's masterfully paced tale with warmth and wit. These two Odyssey-winning narrators are joined by a pantheon cast whose emotionally resonant readings transport listeners, revealing racial prejudice and courage in the face of wartime horror with heartbreaking pathos. A (mostly) original musical score and historical notes read by the author enhance this stellar production. (Listening Library, 14 years and up)

Set on the island of Okinawa during the American invasion, Alan Gratz's WWII story Grenade begins by alternating viewpoints (voiced by two different actors, Todd Haberkorn and Andrew Eiden) between Hideki, an Okinawan boy soldier, and Ray, an American soldier. After Ray's death, the narration focuses on Hideki's search for his missing sister. Accomplished narration captures the sounds of battle, emotional scenes of loss, and subtle moments of realization about the ugly truth of war. Author Gratz narrates a concluding historical note. (Scholastic Audio, 11–14 years)

Renée Watson — who won the 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Award and a 2018 Newbery Honor for this novel, Piecing Me Together — movingly conveys the emotions of her thoughtful, bright, artistic, African American protagonist Jade. The author's narration adds depth and intimacy to the conversational, introspective tone of the powerful first-person text. Jade's navigation of relationships at home, in her community (particularly with Maxine, her mentor through a "Woman to Woman" program), and in a private school in Portland, Oregon, make plain the trials posed by systemic racism, microaggressions, and class divisions, but there's tremendous joy here, too. The result is that listeners will feel like they've spent time with a real contemporary teenage girl as they learn about Jade, and learn from her, too. (Recorded Books, 11-14 years)

From the November 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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