Tag Archives: audiobook

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Crown, 2017.

(I listened to this book – great reading by Dion Graham! – so I may get some details and spellings wrong as I don’t have any notes to refer to).

High school senior, Justyce McAllister is one of the few African American kids at Atlanta’s fancy Brazelton Prep. He’s on course to go to Yale and from there to make a difference in public policy. But when he’s treated abusively by police officers, he decides to write to Martin Luther King to thresh through his feelings and to experiment in “being like Martin.”

There are a lot of similarities with Angie Thomas’s magnificent The Hate U Give (2017), though this is a much more condensed and less richly textured book. However, it takes the viewpoint of a young black man which gives it a different, perhaps more immediate, perspective.

Jus is a wonderfully complex and knotty character.  He realizes that he can’t get away from his skin color and he finds himself torn between what he sees as the two options: either following his dreams but having to swallow his gall at being patronized and belittled in the white world or becoming like his old friends from the neighborhood enmeshed in gang life. Can he, like Martin, find a middle path?

Other characters are somewhat underdeveloped but are thumbnails of different outlooks: Jus’s black friend Manny comes from an affluent family though they still feel the sting of racism; the group of white “bro’s” ostensibly believe they’re in a color blind world but their dog whistle comments show otherwise; Jus’s love interest, Jewish Sarah Jane, is just a little bit too perfect as a white ally.

The narrative is split between Jus’s letters, script-like conversations and discussions, and a third person pov. It moves along speedily through Jus’s senior year and into the next chapter of his life, but I didn’t feel short-changed by the sprightly 41/2 hours.

This is a well-written and thought-provoking book and should find its way into all teen collections.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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fangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

I enjoyed Eleanor and Park (2013) very much, but I was much less keen on this overlong second novel by Rainbow Rowell.

Cath Avery is making a poor job of navigating her first year at college. She was expecting to hang out with her twin, but Wrenn has struck out on her own. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is rather intimidating, and Cath’s writing partner in her fiction class seems to be stealing her work. But she can, at least, escape into the world of the Harry Potter-esque Simon Snow, and has her place in that world as an enormously successful fan fiction writer.

I was irritated by Cath’s drippiness, and eye-rolled my way through her frequent outbreaks of crying. How this sullen, almost silent, girl ends up attracting the charming and affable Levi is something of a mystery that I think has more to do with authorial wish-fulfillment than real life.

The novel is interspersed with excerpts from both the ‘real’ Simon Snow novels and Cath’s fanfic, usually presaging something that’s about to happen in Cath’s life. I found these extracts to be rather too long in places – particularly when Levi wants Cath to read to him (what a bookish girl fantasy that is!) – and though I mostly enjoyed these Potter-esque sections, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out Carry On (2015), Rowell’s Simon novel.

There are some interesting ideas bubbling around the idea of creative writing. Cath finds herself so much more comfortable with fanfic, writing about someone else’s world and characters – but is this plagiarism, as her fiction professor believes? And does she really need a professor to tell her to use characters and situations from her own life instead?

I listened to this book and really enjoyed much of it, but I found the pace of the second half really slow, as we wound to the inevitable conclusion. Nonetheless, Cath is a credible and sympathetic portrait of an introverted young woman, and I understand why this book is so popular with many of my library-lurking students.

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

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when-i-was-the-greatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2014
Audiobook read by J.B. Adkins

This award-winning slice of life from a rundown block in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn is chock full of heart. 16 year-old Allen Brooks aka Ali, is the narrator and our guide to his friends, family, and neighbors, and the events of one summer.

With a meandering and leisurely plot, the author focuses on creating fully rounded, authentic, endearing, and sometimes flawed, primary and secondary characters. Ali himself has been training with boxing coach Joe Malloy for years – hence his nickname – but is too scared to actually enter a fight. He has an inner moral compass, strength, and light, that makes you pull for him all the way. And you can see the roots of this integrity from his family – Doris the strict matriarch, Jazz, his younger sister with an old soul, and John his estranged and still loving Dad.

Also central are the two brothers who live in a broken down apartment next door: Noodles is Ali’s best friend and is full of anger and pride, and Needles, a gentle spirit with Tourette’s Syndrome, who manages his outbursts by knitting.

After a relaxed introduction and tour of the neighborhood, the narrative focuses on the boys going to an illicit, adults-only party. It’s punching way above their weight, and what happens there sets the course for the rest of novel.

But really, the plot is not the point. Though there is an ominous gun on the cover, albeit one in a crocheted cover, it is not the sort of ‘urban fiction’ (a label which I find patronizing) with gangs and gunfights. Instead we are shown the tight knit love, family ties, and loyalty of real, sometimes troubled, people.

This is a character-driven novel which is not usually my cup of tea, but listening to it was a delightful and engrossing experience. J. B. Adkins reads with a vivacity, humor, and innocent excitement that brings all the characters to rich life, though I somewhat question the way he reads Needles to make him sound a little simple, but maybe that’s the way it’s written.

This is my first Jason Reynolds novel, and as he has several other YA books about the contemporary black experience, it won’t be my last. Highly recommended.

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

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all involvedAll Involved by Ryan Gattis
Harper Collins, 2015 (Audiobook)

Set in 1992 Los Angeles at the time of the South Central riots following the Rodney King trial verdict, All Involved takes place over six days in the Lynwood neighborhood, and centers on a gang’s exploitation of the window of lawlessness provided by the breakdown in police control in order to shake up the hierarchy.

There are 17 narrators, who each tell a piece of an overall story, centering around the Hispanic gang of Big Fate and his acolytes. Many of the 17 are members of, or associated with, Big Fate’s click, but there is also a Hispanic nurse, a Korean high schooler, a Croatian firefighter, and an off the record Black law enforcer. Each one provides a snapshot of few hours on one of the six days and each individual appears only once. The remarkably clever plotting allows them to drive the narrative forward adding in texture and depth, while touching, sometimes only briefly, on the lives and fates of the other characters.

I listened to this over the course of a couple of weeks, and the use of multiple readers really enhanced the experience. Though there is a lot of gang lingo and some Spanish phrases (both of which are in a glossary in the book), the narrative flows easily, and the distinctly written characters are quickly established. It pains me to find myself caring about people who kill without apparent conscience, but I did, and wanted to know what was going to happen to them beyond the book.

All Involved won an Alex Award, given to books “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults” and, as the majority of the characters are shockingly young, this is a perfect fit for older teens who enjoy fast-moving, intricately plotted novels, as well as those interested in recent social history.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

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trouble is a friend of mineTrouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
Kathy Dawson Books, 2015.
Listening Library, 2015.

I listened to this which is unusual for me. Mostly I read books and listen to podcasts, but I saw this title in a year end best of list (sorry, I can’t remember which one) and San Francisco PL had an audio copy available so I went for it. I listened to it over the course of a couple of weeks – mainly on my walk home from work, and on a plane. The downside of listening to an audiobook this way is that it’s hard to take notes or highlight significant passages, which is what I do with a written book, so my review is going to be a bit thinner than you might otherwise expect.

16 year-old Zoe Webster and her mother have moved out of Manhattan to upstate New York, after her parents’ marriage broke up. Zoe sees this as a temporary move until she goes back to the city to go an elite private school, so she is very snooty about being in the burbs, and finds it hard socially. But then she is befriended by Philip Digby, a weird kid who is investigating the disappearance of a high school girl the previous summer.

Narrated with sharp and withering wit by Zoe, the mystery itself is fairly straightforward, but the investigation and resolution are excitingly and compellingly plotted. Digby gets Zoe way out of her comfort zone, and as they get deeper into the mystery, they lurch into the town’s underbelly, encountering an unethical gynecologist, a helpful drug dealer, and a sinister cult next door, in their pursuit of the truth.

Zoe’s smarty pants good girl demeanor contrasts well with Digby’s Sherlockian devil may care attitude to legal niceties, and the crackling dialogue and relationship between the two of them are what really gives this book its omph. A support cast of teens – “hero handsome” Henry, rich girl Sloane and geeky Felix (maybe could have done without that Asian stereotyping) – and adult characters, particularly Zoe’s mum, are all well-fleshed out.

The audiobook is narrated by Kathleen McInerney, who does a great job of giving each character a distinctive and appropriate voice, while keeping up with the helter skelter pace of the plot.

The ending leaves some questions unresolved, so readers (and listeners) will be hopeful that means more of Zoe and Digby in the future.