Ears on the Odyssey

Nonfiction Roundup

Colleen spent the last half of 2019 doing a deep dive into listening to nonfiction audiobooks for teens. Here’s a handful of titles that show the wide variety of styles when it comes to nonfiction narration. 

Obviously: Stories from My Timeline by Akilah Hughes, narrated by the author. 4 hours, 58 minutes. Listening Library, 2019. 

Akilah Hughes compiles essays from her life in this hilarious and touching memoir. Hughes is a writer, comedian, and YouTuber, and most of the essays in this book speak to her growing up in a small town with a single mom and overcoming many obstacles, including a serious illness. Utilizing Akilah Hughes as the narrator could not have paid off better! You hear the stifled laughter in her voice as she describes the time raccoons invaded her house, and you also hear the struggle in her voice to relay the emotional toll it took fighting through her illness. The narration was especially moving when Huges describes how she told off her absent father after he said truly heinous things to her. It’s natural to have an author narrate their own memoir, and I am so thankful every time I come across one, as you really get an uplifted version of their life story in their own voice.

Limelight by Solli Raphael, narrated by the author. 1 hour, 48 minutes. Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2019.

Written and narrated by 12-year-old Solli Raphael, Limelight is an introductory look at how to write poetry, with a focus on writing and performing slam poetry. As the youngest winner of the Australian Poetry Slam held annually at Sydney Opera House, Raphael also infuses this work with her experiences learning how to write poetry in school and details about her winning performance. She relays her experiences and lessons on poetry with excitement and exuberance. The true gem of this audio production, however, is the performance of over 30 original poems by Solli Raphael which are also included in the text. Listeners should grab this audiobook just to listen to Solli perform her poetry. Some poems have backing tracks, some are short, some long, but all together it is candy for your ears and should also be essential for any classroom setting for lessons about poetry.

The Truths We Hold (Young Reader’s Edition): An American Journey by Kamala Harris, narrated by Robin Miles. 6 hours, 44 minutes. Listening Library, 2019.

This young reader’s edition adapts Kamala Harris’ memoir of the same title, primarily focusing on growing up and the issues that she cares about now. It is a moving listen, however, part of me kept wishing that I would have listened to the unadapted memoir, as it was narrated by Kamala Harris herself. As a listener, I was still able to learn about Harris’ life and the experiences that formed her as the first woman, African American, and South Asian American to become Attorney General of California, and the second black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. Even so, I felt like I missed a connection to Kamala Harris herself, and I wondered if young listeners might feel the same. The choice of narrator really is important, and in this case, it could make the difference between a young person finding a hero or just an interesting politician to study.

Viral: the Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausum, narrated by Vikas Adam. 4 hours, 24 minutes. Listening Library, 2019. 

Chronicling the fight against AIDS starting with the Stonewall Riot in 1969 and with the fight that continues today, Bausum details information about the spread of AIDS alongside the social and political structures that prevented widespread work to find a cure. Additional narratives from those who survived and lost loved ones emphasizes the impact this disease has on the LGBTQ community. Vikas employs a very even pace, and this helps the listener take in and think about the information that is being presented. However, the tone is often too ominous for the delivery of a lot of this information, and in some cases the personal narratives or even topic don’t warrant this tone. For example, in the text, the author notes the terms “free love” and “hooking up for sex;” as a reader, these terms would not be as charged, but a higher level of judgment is implied through Vikas’ tone.  It is just not needed as Bausum is describing the time and the culture, not passing judgment on those engaging in it. Although I was a little disappointed with this aspect of the audio, I was glad I was able to listen to these firsthand accounts of such an important chapter in history.

Colleen Seisser is the Collection Services Manager at the Aurora Public Library in Aurora, IL. She is a current Board Member at Large on the YALSA Board of Directors and she also reviews audiobooks for Booklist Magazine. Colleen attributes ramping up her obsession with audiobooks from serving in various roles on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Committee from 2012-15. She has been listening non-stop since then! When not listening, Colleen is either crafting, gardening, or jammin’ on her planner!  @colleenTS81

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