29 Dec / Top 10 Audiobooks of 2022 [in School Library Journal]
Culled from the 200-plus titles with November 2021 to October 2022 publication dates I’ve reviewed or judged, this is SLJ’s list of top 10 audiobooks. Two picture books, a family history in verse, remade fairy tales, an intertwined podcast, and a haven’t-ever-heard-that-before double recording are among these outstanding listens.
Jackson, Tiffany D. The Weight of Blood. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780063029170. Narrated by JD Jackson, Sarah Mollo-Christensen, Joy Nash, Christopher Salazar, and Karen Malina White.
Gr 9 Up–A spectacular cast magnificently enlivens Jackson’s stupendous homage to her “favorite movie of ALL TIME.” The book opens with a chilling podcast, Maddy Did It, which attempts to piece together what happened that fateful night when popular Kenny took bullied Maddy to prom; its enthralling episodes are interwoven throughout a mesmerizing narrative.
Lukens, F.T. So This Is Ever After. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797136479. Narrated by Kevin R. Free.
Gr 8 Up–The story begins with the hardest part already over – right? Arek and his BFFs beheaded the Vile One. But now Arek must rule (because the princess is dead) and find his soulmate by his 18th birthday, or he’ll fade away. Literally. Inimitable Kevin R. Free effervescently voices the motley crew – King Arek, mage Matt, fae Lila, bard Bethany, warrior Sionna, knight Rion – but bestows his finest performance on Harlow, the dignified (disdaining) castle steward.
Nazemian, Abdi. The Chandler Legacies. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780063039353. Narrated by Abdi Nazemian and Vikas Adam.
Gr 9 Up–Versatile Vikas Adam adroitly ciphers the diverse boarding school cast while Nazemian chillingly closes the recording with his author’s-note narration. To be truly anointed at exclusive Chandler Academy is to be chosen for the Circle, an enigmatic writing group. In 1999, that Circle is townie Beth, wealthy biracial Spence, gay Iranian refugee Ramin, overachiever Brunson, and would-be Olympian Freddy – destined to become one another’s family.
Reynolds, Jason & Jason Griffin. Ain’t Burned All the Bright. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797137544. Narrated by Jason Reynolds, Nile Bullock, Tatum Marylin Hall, JaQwan J. Kelly, and DePre Owens.
Gr 7 Up–Adapted from the visually spectacular print original, Reynolds’s words carry the narration here in one of the most inventive aural presentations: the book is read twice, first by Reynolds alone, then by a full cast. The former will surely be appreciated by purists; the latter repeats the exact text, yet the familiar words transform into an utterly altered experience with multiple voices ciphering contrasting interpretations. Both undoubtedly resonate.
Sepetys, Ruta. I Must Betray You. Listening Library. ISBN 9780593502297. Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and Ruta Sepetys.
Gr 9 Up–Edoardo Ballerini is that rare talent who instantly, effortlessly transports listeners into a story. In winter 1989, 17-year-old Cristian is blackmailed into becoming a spy for the Romanian secret police. Suddenly, he can’t trust anyone – not his family, best friend, even the girl who’s always had his heart. Ballerini imbues Cristian with remarkable range. Audiences are guaranteed an extraordinary performance of an already exceptional book.
Soontornvat, Christina. The Last Mapmaker. OrangeSky. ISBN 9781667068220. Narrated by Sura Siu.
Gr 3-7–Thai American and two-time Newbery Honoree Soontornvat gets culturally and linguistically matched with Thai-fluent Sura Siu for engrossing high-seas exploits in search of mythical lands. Twelve-year-old Sai assists Master Mapmaker Paiyoon on a royal voyage to chart southern waters – but mutiny requires unexpected detours. Siu agilely adapts to a myriad of characters, from tenacious Sai and patient Paiyoon to manipulative father Mud and charismatic Miss Rian; she’s especially entertaining as “curse-slinging” stowaway Bo.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual. Listening Library. ISBN 9780593613719. Narrated by Carole Boston Weatherford.
Gr 1-4–“Created by and for enslaved people not allowed to read or write, many spirituals are in call-and-response style,” Weatherford explains. “When so moved, singers improvise, adapting the existing lyrics or adding new ones.” Weatherford brilliantly expands the original verses to the titular spiritual, highlighting moments of resilience, rebellion, accomplishment – Nat Turner, Tuskegee Airmen, Ruby Bridges, Black Lives Matter – which she reads with resounding solemnity … and then wondrously sings her radiant achievement.
Wong-Kalu, Hinaleimoana, Dean Hamer, and Joe Willson. Kapaemahu. Listening Library. ISBN 9780593605936. Narrated by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu.
Gr 2-5–A solemn drumbeat welcomes listeners to discover the Kapaemahu, four ancient Tahitian healers of Hawaii. Neither male nor female, “they were mahu – a mixture of both in mind, heart, and spirit.” Native Hawaiian coauthor Wong-Kalu, who is also mahu, reverently embodies the bilingual text, fluently narrating between Olelo Niihau and English over a richly enhancing background soundtrack.
Yang, Kelly. New from Here. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797136608. Narrated by Justin Chien.
Gr 4-7–Audiobook newbie Justin Chien expertly elevates bestselling Yang’s latest, deftly distinguishing every member of the biracial Wei-Evans family as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic: Chinese American Mom and the three kids return to Oakland while white American Dad and pup remain in Hong Kong for work. Middle child Knox narrates, revealing his growing anxiety about their overwhelmed parents, repeated bullying, oppressive racism, and his new Chinese American best friend.
Young, Alora. Walking Gentry Home: A Memoir of My Foremothers in Verse. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593559079. Narrated by Alora Young.
Gr 7 Up–Young’s ancestry goes back to Amy Coleman, an enslaved woman who bore her white enslaver’s child. Young appeared seven generations later, her lineage explored in a mesmerizing memoir-in-verse. Her impassioned delivery channels centuries of abuse and joy, pain and hope, suffering and forgiveness, and most importantly, unrelenting love. Young, just 19, is Youth Poet Laureate of the Southern United States. Her double debut – as author and narrator – marks an auspicious achievement.