We often think of audiobooks in terms of the narrator, and the audio-obsessed among us have been known to seek out favorite narrators above all else. This makes sense, of course, but what many listeners may not consider is that the audiobook producer pulls all of the pieces together—selecting narrators, assisting with pronunciation, pacing, sound quality, and so much more. Producers often don’t receive the accolades and attention that they should, except when it comes to the Odyssey Award. The Odyssey is special, since it recognizes the producer of the year’s best audiobook for children and young adults.
In this spirit, we have been delighted to spend time with Caitlin Garing, the Associate Publisher of Audio Production at HarperCollins. Caitlin is a highly decorated producer, recognized for her work on the 2018 Odyssey Award winner, The Hate U Give, as well as garnering several Odyssey Honors for Clap When You Land, The Poet X, and Nimona. Caitlin is known throughout the industry for her excellent work and also for her commitment to finding authentic voices that respect the experiences of diverse people and cultures.
If you’re looking for your next great listen, we encourage you to seek out some of Caitlin’s wonderful productions. To help you with your search, we have listed some of our recent favorites here. Many thanks to HarperAudio for providing review copies of these books. Happy listening!
Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte. 5 hrs, 32 min. HarperAudio, 2020.
Suddenly losing your father in a high profile plane crash is hard enough, but when you learn that he has another family and that you have a sister, it is devastating. Camino lives a modest life in the Dominican Republic with her aunt (her mother passed away years ago). She loves her father and is devastated each time he leaves for New York. Yahaira used to be very close to her father, but recently she learned that he was keeping a secret. She feels betrayed by the man who provided everything for her, including her love of chess. Inspired by the real life tragedy of American Airlines flight 587, we listen to the angst of two young women working through their grief and also how their father represented more than just family.
Melania-Luisa Marte narrates the main character Camino, and Elizabeth Acevedo narrates our other main character Yahaira. This production is filled with lots of smart choices for each character to bring Camino and Yahaira’s story to life. Two really stood out to my ears, however. First, later in the text Yahaira observes that Camino’s way of talking is very eloquent and sounds much better than Yahaira’s rough dialect. This was an awesome revelation, as I heard this difference in the two narrators right away. It wasn’t a remarkable difference, but just enough to make you feel like you had a strong sense of each as an individual. Second, when Yahaira and Camino finally meet, their narrations start to bleed into the other and Marte and Acevedo occasionally speak on the same tracks. The last thing you hear at the end of this novel is especially impactful, but I won’t give that away!
Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender, narrated by Logan Rozos. 8 hrs, 24 min. HarperAudio, 2020.
Felix Love has never been in love. He doesn’t find this irony amusing. In fact, he laments this sad state of affairs at every turn. Kacen Callender’s delightful Felix is artistic, dramatic and loyal. He’s attending a summer arts program with his best friend Ezra and dreaming of ways to improve his application to Brown University when someone launches a series of in-person and online transphobic attacks against him. As Felix comes up with ever more elaborate plans to ferret out the person behind these attacks, he risks losing the people that matter most to him.
Logan Rozos makes his audio narration debut in this moving production about a boy learning how to believe in himself and trust his own instincts. Rozos gives Felix the perfect blend of over the top teenage angst and genuine vulnerability. Felix’s inner monologue will ring true for anyone who’s ever worried that they were unloved and unlovable. Rozos especially shines when things get heated—the climax of the mystery involves a truly heroic screed by one of Felix’s best friends that had me cheering in my seat.
Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, narrated by Ethan Herisse. 4 hrs, 29 min. HarperAudio, 2020.
This novel in verse begins with Amal, a Black Muslim teen, being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison for an assault that leaves another white teen in a coma. Through the lyrical entries we learn about Amal and his passion for art and writing. We also see how being wrongly convicted and imprisoned at a young age can lead to despair and hopelessness.
This moving work is narrated by Ethan Herrise. His slow, measured pace and authentic voice uplift this novel and help the listener connect to the words as they are missing seeing them on the page as the authors intended. Listening to this novel has to be a very different experience than reading, as one cannot see how Zoboi and Salaam are putting the word structures together to create poetry. However, listening to Herrise’s narration feels like the novel is being brought to life and told to you by Amal himself.
The end of the work includes an author’s note, read by the narrator, and dives into the inspiration of the novel. This inspiration adds a whole other layer to this work: this story was written with Yusef Salaam who Ibi Zoboi met in 1999 as a college student. This was two years after Yusef had been released from jail. In 1989, Yusef was one of the Central Park 5. He was tried and convicted of a crime that he did not commit. This story was inspired by stories like Yusef’s and Punching the Air is infused with Yusef’s poetry and the belief that hip hop could get his story across and to educate readers on the need for prison reform in America.
Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold, narrated by January LaVoy. 8 hrs, 14 min. HarperAudio, 2020.
K. Arnold’s Red Hood is a searing examination of toxic masculinity and a celebration of female empowerment. In this dark retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” 16-year-old Bisou’s first sexual encounter turns from pleasure into horror, a nightmare of stalking, wolves, shadowy woods, and blood. Wolves—but are they fairytale wolves, or something much worse, something much closer and more sinister?—are attacking girls, and Bisou discovers that she alone has the power to stop them. January LaVoy’s narration is superb, perfectly capturing the rich darkness of this disturbing story and the intoxicating power of vengeance and sisterhood. Her pacing and characterizations are exquisite, and she stunningly evokes an atmosphere of tension, magic, and dread. Please note that, while respectfully handled, scenes of sex and violence are unflinchingly addressed and may be upsetting for some listeners.
Stay Gold, by Tobly McSmith, narrated by Theo Germaine and Phoebe Strole. 9 hrs, 19 min. HarperAudio, 2020.
Tobly McSmith’s debut novel has it all—a heady blend of romance, comedy, and above all, an insightful commentary on the difficulties and rewards of coming out as transgender. Pony, the new kid at school, is trans, but he is desperate to hide that fact. He just wants to be a guy, plain and simple, although that’s easier said than done. When Pony locks eyes with popular cheerleader, Georgia, he begins to understand that he may be a guy, but he’s definitely not plain and simple. Theo Germaine voices the part of Pony, and he is fabulous—funny, tender, scared, hurt, hopeful, and absolutely authentic. Germaine is new to the narrating scene, but we’d love to hear more from him. As Georgia, Phoebe Strole is warm and light, communicating Georgia’s tenderness but also bringing out her confusion and doubt. Go ahead, put this on your listen list—you definitely don’t want to miss this captivating and sensitively told audio!