Ears on the Odyssey

Review: Genesis Begins Again

Meet Genesis Anderson, who, at the young age of thirteen, has already seen more than her fair share of hardship. Her alcoholic, gambling father never pays the rent, and the family has been uprooted and evicted more times than Genesis can count. Genesis’ mother is a beautiful, light-skinned black woman, but Genesis has inherited her father’s dark skin, and she feels unbearably ugly and awkward in comparison. To make matters worse, Genesis’ classmates apparently agree, teasing her mercilessly and calling her names like “Eggplant,” “Charcoal,” and “Blackie.” Genesis can’t even find refuge at home, for both her father and her grandmother disparage her darkness and withhold their love because she isn’t light-skinned enough. Genesis is certain that if she could just lighten her skin and soften her hair–in short, if she could become whiter–then, all of her problems would disappear. Then, she would at last become beautiful and popular, and most importantly, her father would love her. 

Things begin to change when Genesis’ family moves to Farmington Hills, a predominantly white suburb of Detroit. Although she still seeks out whiteness as the perfect model of beauty, she also starts to see that she holds strength and power within herself. Her new friends don’t focus on her skin color, but instead note that she has an incredible singing voice, and that she is funny and giving. With fits and starts, Genesis embarks on a path towards self-acceptance and growth, slowly taking pride in her accomplishments and talents and learning that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. At the end of the story, Genesis’ journey is far from complete, but it is clear that this beautiful girl has what it takes to face life’s challenges with grace and conviction.

Author Alicia D. Williams narrates her own book, which, as all audiophiles know, can be amazing or sometimes hugely disappointing. There is nothing worse than hearing a phenomenal book flattened by mediocre narration, and it’s even worse when an author-narrator isn’t able to honor the power of her own work. Never fear, however, for I am happy–no, delighted!–to tell you that this audio is wonderful. If you’re anything like me, within seconds of starting to listen, you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. 

Simply put, Williams’ narration is a joy to listen to. Her characterizations are outstanding, from Genesis’ wretched and bullying mean-girl friends, to her long-suffering and over-stretched mother. Her depiction of Genesis’ father is very well done, capturing both his charming enthusiasm and his shifty instability. Particularly memorable is a scene towards the end of the audio, when Genesis has a real heart-heart talk with her father. The hurt in her voice and the slurring sorrow in his one come together, making for a truly affecting and authentic listening experience.

Williams’ greatest triumph is in portraying Genesis’ deep hurt and self-harming behavior as she undergoes risky treatments to lighten her skin and soften her hair. Listeners will feel her agony, her despair, and her wretched hope to be accepted and loved. These sections of the audio are so real and so poignant that they are sometimes difficult to listen to, but at the same time they are so powerful that you cannot turn away.

My only complaint about this audio–I only noticed this because I’ve learned so much from my discerning Odyssey buddies over the years!–is that the audio sometimes sounds echoey and hollow. This sound quality is less evident if you listen through your computer or car stereo, but if you tune in with earbuds, that hollow sound is much more distinct. This small blemish doesn’t take away from the power of the audio as a whole, but if it came to judging for the Odyssey Award, it might come into play.

Many thanks to AudioFile Magazine for allowing me the opportunity to listen to and review Genesis Begins Again in the first place. I am so grateful to be able to get the word out about this excellent production!

Genesis Begins Again, written and read by Alicia D. Williams. 8 hours, 48 minutes. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020.

Sarah Hashimoto is a branch manager at Jackson District Library in Jackson, Michigan. She is a member of ALSC, YALSA, and RUSA. She has served two years (one year as chair) on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Committee and was a member of the 2017 Odyssey Committee. Sarah is currently serving on RUSA’s Listen List Council as well as ALSC’s Membership Committee and reviews for AudioFile. Sarah prefers to read with her ears and is a passionate advocate of audiobooks for all ages and abilities.@SarahHashimoto1

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