In the aftermath of a tragic accident involving his best friend, Kacey, twelve-year-old Ethan is uprooted from his Boston home and moves in with his prickly Grandpa Ike. Ethan’s parents had hoped that a new home and a new town would help him move on with his life, but he continues to stumble through paralyzing grief and confusion.
Everything changes when Ethan is befriended by the outrageous and indomitable Coralee Jessup, a bigger-than-life girl who is not deterred by Ethan’s distant manner. Before he knows it, Ethan finds himself involved in all kinds of adventures, from investigating a possibly haunted, abandoned house to rescuing endangered wolf pups. Ethan and Coralee’s growing friendship is complicated by Ethan’s reluctance to divulge his past as well as the considerable secrets that Coralee harbors. Both children have sustained terrible wounds, but together they cautiously allow themselves to trust, forgive, and love again.
The Ethan I Was Before is tenderly narrated by Kirby Heyborne, a much-decorated narrator who has two Odyssey Award-winning audiobooks under his belt, both authored by Daniel Kraus–Rotters, which won in 2012 and Scowler, which won in 2014. Heyborne has been awarded multiple Earphones Awards from Audiofile magazine, and his talent has earned him a spot on many of the American Library Association’s best lists, including YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults and ALSC’s Children’s Notable Recordings.
It is not unusual for such a well-known narrator to get pigeon-holed. So-and-so is the go-to guy for military action and adventure, but don’t listen to his romances! So-and-so is so great at communicating deep-seated emotions, but don’t put her in a thriller! Heyborne is very different, however, as his versatility enables him to narrate a huge range of audios, from slapdash comedy to rollicking monster tales to dark horror, and so much more.
In The Ethan I Was Before, Heyborne’s narration is measured and careful, focused on Ethan’s inner thoughts and conveying the gradual lightening of his spirits as the story progresses. Ethan’s shell-shocked quiet and yawning grief are communicated with piercing clarity. Heyborne is well-known for his incredible character voices, including drooling trolls, venomous demons, and truly terrifying villains. Here, he draws upon a different vocal range, embodying the characters with complexity, nuance, and depth. Secondary characters are fully realized, from gruff Grandpa Ike to Ethan’s mother, who struggles to keep her worry at bay. The result is a multi-faceted picture of inner turmoil, forgiveness, and growth that is affecting and powerful.
It’s no wonder that Heyborne has received so many accolades and awards. With a performance like this, is it possible that another Odyssey Award may be coming his way?
The Ethan I Was Before, by Ali Standish, read by Kirby Heyborne. 7 hours, 25 minutes. HarperAudio, 2017.