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Books for Your Ears: Middle Grade and Young Adult Favorites

A few Fridays ago I introduced a miniseries featuring some of my favorite audiobooks. This week, I’ll be focusing on middle grade and young adult novels, all of which I, as an adult, really enjoyed. I’ve selected three of my favorites:

Books for Your Ears - YA

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (read by the author)

Junior, our narrator, is a Spokane Indian teenager living on a reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. His real name is Arnold Spirit, but no one who knows him calls him that. Early in the novel, Junior realizes that the only way he’ll make anything of himself is if he gets off the rez, which he does by transferring to the all white high school in the nearest town. The switch lengthens his commute immeasurably and puts Junior at odds with his best friend, Rowdy, who sees Junior’s move as a betrayal. Junior is left to find his own way in his new life. There are plenty of hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking moments along the way.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by (and read by) Sherman Alexie is, hands down, my favorite YA audiobook I’ve encountered so far. When I first started listening to it, I was pretty sure there was no way I’d be able to tolerate Alexie’s odd vocal style for the entire length of the audiobook. However, I quickly got used to it, Alexie’s voice soon became Junior’s, and now I can’t imagine the book being read by anyone else. I know that by listening to this novel you miss all the great drawings in the print version, but it might just be worth it to hear Alexie read Junior’s story!

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman (read by the author)

Calvin Schwa, aka the Schwa, has an uncanny ability to go about his life completely unnoticed by other people. When our narrator, Anthony “Antsy” Bonano, realizes there could be money in this talent, he becomes an agent for the Schwa, setting up dares that require the Schwa to perform certain activities without being detected. All goes well until someone dares the Schwa to enter the home of the agoraphobic Crawley, a local restaurant owner with a legendary temper, and steal a dog bowl belonging to one of Crawley’s fourteen Afghans. When the dare goes awry, Antsy and the Schwa land in an unexpected situation.

Neal Shusterman reads The Schwa Was Here himself, and his tough NYC accent is perfect for Antsy’s Brooklyn background. Shusterman brings Antsy to life splendidly, narrating his odd little story well. I could never guess where The Schwa Was Here was headed and enjoyed being surprised. It made for a great audiobook!

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko (read by Kirby Heywood)

It’s 1935, and Moose’s life with his family on Alcatraz Island, where his father works as a guard, is going well. His sister, Natalie, has finally been admitted to a special school, thanks to what Moose believes was a bit of intervention on the part of the infamous Al Capone. Then a note arrives in Moose’s laundry, which the convicts wash: “Your turn.” Is the note really from Al Capone? And if so, what has Moose gotten himself–and his family–into? With Natalie’s school placement and his dad’s job on the line, Moose has to watch his step. And on top of Al Capone, Moose has the normal kid stuff to deal with: his crush, his dueling best friends, his family, and the strict rules of living on Alcatraz.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is the sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, which I read rather than listened to. Though both are engaging, I preferred the sequel for its higher stakes and more complex characters. I don’t feel it would be necessary to listen to Al Capone Does My Shirts before picking up Al Capone Shines My Shoes; the relevant back story is woven into the sequel’s narrative quite well.

Kirby Heyborne, who read the audiobook, does a fantastic job. He differentiates well between characters and is consistent with the voices he uses for each. His pacing and phrasing are easy to listen to and understand. Plus, I could totally hear his voice as Moose’s. Al Capone Shines My Shoes is technically middle grade fiction, but I found it thoroughly engaging and enjoyable.

Your Turn!

What are some of your favorite young adult or middle grade audiobooks? Are there any that surprised you?

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I have heard such amazing things about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and have never tried anything by Alexie. Your review really entices me, and I love to buy YA books because they do triple duty at my house. I read them, and then pass them to my two teenage kids who have tastes that are really similar to mine. I have come across some great books for us to share, and must admit that Al Capone Shines My Shoes is also another one that has caught my eye. These are great choices. Thanks so much for sharing them with us!!

    • Erin

      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian was my first Alexie novel — I think it’s a great place to start! I think I would’ve loved it as a teen, too. That’s great that your kids share your reading tastes! When I worked in a school, the seventh and eighth graders I worked with really enjoyed Al Capone Does My Shirts (the sequel wasn’t out yet). It was nice for me, because I enjoyed the book as well!

  • http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com Eva

    I didn’t know Alexie narrated the audiobook! I LOVE Alexie, but I’ve started with his older stuff and am working my way forward, so I haven’t gotten to Absolutely True Diary yet. Now I definitely want to listen to it in audio form!

    I’d HIGHLY recommend the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (read by Gaiman) for your MG/YA list. :)

    • Erin

      He DOES! And it is wonderful. I hope you get a chance to try it out on audio!!

      The Graveyard Book is fantastic on audio. I featured it last month for Halloween, but you’re right, I should’ve included it in this list. Great recommendation!

      • http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com Eva

        Whoops! Sorry I didn’t see your Halloween feature. :)

        • Erin

          No worries! I didn’t expect you to have. I’m glad you mentioned The Graveyard Book here — it is, indeed, a wonderful and wonderfully read YA audiobook! (I love Neil Gaiman reading Neil Gaiman…mmm!)

  • http://www.bostonbibliophile.com Marie

    Oh my gawd, I would love to listen to the Alexie. I read it in print and it’s one of my favorite books; I’ll bet the audio is incredible!

    • Erin

      Ooh! You will love it — especially if you already love the book!!

  • http://www.readinasinglesitting.com Stephanie

    I’m not a huge audiobook listener (I’m too impatient, and I always find it weird to hear an American narrator), but if there’s an audio version of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson around I’d recommend buying/borrowing it. Gosh I loved that book. :)

    • Erin

      Hmm, never thought about the nationality of the narrator! I just checked and there is a version of Octavian Nothing! I’ll have to see if my library has it :-) Thanks!

  • http://lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    Oh my … I haven’t thought about schwas in FOREVER!!! I love that title. I might have to listen to that one just for the title alone!!!

    • Erin

      It really was quite clever! And short, and fun :-)

  • http://loveyalit.com Em (Love YA Lit)

    One that I listened to recently and enjoyed was “Peace, Locomotion” by Jacqueline Woodson. The narrator Dion Graham does a wonderful job. It is a very sweet book and a similarly sweet recording.

    • Erin

      Ooh! I’ve always meant to read Woodson. I’ll go see if my library has a copy. Thanks!