October 2021
Children's/Teen Reviews
Tanaz Bhathena. Hunted By the Sky. Book 1: The Wrath of Ambar Series
Read by Soneela Nankani and Neil Shah
Digital download. 13.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 12+

Hunted By The Sky is a fantasy novel set in medieval India. Gul does not believe in prophecy or magic. Because she has a star birthmark she has been constantly on the run under threat of death from the king. But when her parents are killed by sky warriors because of it, she can no longer ignore it. She hides out with the Sisters of the Golden Lotus who train her until she is strong enough to exact revenge on the King and the sky warriors that took her family from her. Cavas is a boy just trying to keep his sick father alive. He lives in the tenements and works at the palace stables selling secrets on the side for extra money. He wants nothing to do with magic. When the two meet randomly during a town celebration little do they know how intertwined their lives are about to become.

Classically trained actress Soneela Nankani has worked in film and television and has narrated more than 60 audiobooks. She brings life and emotion to Gul's chapters. Listeners will feel how she is torn throughout the book because of her desire for revenge. Award-winning narrator Neil Shah brings Cavas to life in his chapters. Cavas is played very close to the chest and it is harder to know exactly what he is feeling, but it works for his character and does not take you out of the story. Both narrators together make the story come alive. This listener cannot wait to listen to the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
*Kody Keplinger. Lila and Hadley.
Read Sandy Rustin.
5 CDs. 4.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 9+

Twelve-year-old Hadley's world has slowly been getting darker as she goes more and more blind. Then out of the blue, she is told that her mother is going to jail and she will be moving in with her older sister, whom she hasn't seen in years, in another southern state. Hadley is angry and doesn't know if she will ever stop being angry. One day, when she is forced to go into the animal shelter that her sister works for, she meets Lila. Lila is a pit bull who is just as lost as Hadley. Lila refuses to react to anyone in the shelter, except Hadley. Now, whether she wants to or not, Hadley is fostering Lila in hopes that she can be trained and adopted. But Lila is not the only one with something to learn.

Sandy Rustin has been working as an audiobook narrator for over 10 years, recording over 100 books. Sandy puts you in the south with the characters. Her accent makes you feel like you are in Hadley's head and world. You feel Hadley's anger and attempts at indifference. Sandy narrates so you never doubt who is speaking and how they are feeling. She puts you in the book and you are in middle school again. Sandy Rustin is also an actress and award-winning playwright recently named to the Broadway Women's Fund inaugural "50 Women to Watch" list.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost

Bridget Krone. Small Mercies.
Read by Moshidi Motshegwa.
5 CDs. 5.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 8+

Eleven-year-old Mercy lives in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and has been under the foster care of two elderly though somewhat eccentric sisters, Aunt Mary McKnight and Aunt Flora, since the age of five when her mother died. These aunts are loving and caring, but too poor to continue maintaining their house. The gain some financial relief by taking in a boarder for their small garden house, kindly Mr. Singh, who provides some educational and moral guidance for Mercy. Aunt Flora's health declines as her Alzheimer's advances. Aunt Mary can no longer take care of her and keep her safe at home. Against her better judgment, she agrees to sell their house to an unscrupulous developer, so that Aunt Flora can live in a quality old-age home. Mercy, a good but very timid student who is hesitant about speaking up in class and asserting her own voice, has a hard time being accepted by her school mates because she has been raised differently from them. Even her teachers don't really understand her life, her shyness, and lack of confidence in her own voice. What will happen when the developer acquires the contract for their house, but plans to cut down their beautiful garden trees ahead of time to speed up the process? Will Mercy find her voice and secure the necessary help to save the day? A beautiful story which includes much timely information about passive resistance modeled on the story of Ghandi, Mr. Singh's hero. Mercy must overcome her timidity and find the courage to tell the truth regardless of the consequences. Krone's story documents the history of the Indians in South Africa and their contribution to life there. Her statement at the end both explains their story and reveals very interesting information about bees who also play an important part in Small Mercies. Understanding the plot at the beginning of the audiobook presents some problems because there are many characters and many threads to follow.

Narrator Moshidi Motshegwa, takes on the challenge of realizing the many dialects and nationalities in the book, but sometimes the accents are difficult to understand. The audiobook, however, is well worth the effort both for describing life in South Africa from a young person's point of view and for giving valuable advice to young listeners about how to face and communicate with their world. Small Mercies is an excellent discussion book for middle school and upper elementary school, and for anyone wanting a glimpse into another culture.

Reviewed by Susan Allison

Laura Silverman. Recommended For You
Read by Emily Lawrence.
Digital download. 7 hours.
Tantor Audio. 2021.

Shoshanna Greenberg loves her job at Once Upon, the local bookstore in the mall. It is her oasis from the tense situation at home. Her moms are constantly fighting and ignoring family traditions. Then to top it all off, her beloved car has died and will cost a lot of money, which she does not have, to fix. But then her boss offers a holiday bonus competition: whoever sells the most books by closing on Christmas Eve gets $250. This is just what Shoshanna needs to fix her car, and she is determined to win. Jake Kaplan, the new employee, does not plan on letting her win. A rivalry is formed and this holiday season will go down in history. Who will win the bonus and title of the top seller?

Emily Lawrence has narrated 400+ audiobooks and her experience shows. She brings the characters to life in this book. You feel the tension and pain when Shoshana's parents are fighting, you flirt along awkwardly, and you feel her anger when Jake comes up with a new scheme to sell more books than her. The emotion was evident and unmistakable in this telling. Emily gave depth and range to each character. This listener will be looking for Emily Lawrence with other books.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
*Cynthia Leitich Smith. Sisters of the Neversea.
Read by Katie Anvil Rich.
6 hours 49 minutes.
HarperAudio. 2021. 978-0-063-08647-0. Ages 8-12.

Fans of Peter Pan and those unfamiliar with the tale will enjoy this story that breathes new life into its source material. This modern retelling centers on a blended family from Oklahoma, the Roberts-Darlings. Stepsisters and best friends Wendy, who is white, and Lily, who is Muscogee Creek, find themselves at odds with each other and facing new challenges as their family life grows uncertain. Their oldest brother has just graduated from high school and their parents are considering divorce. To make matters worse, Wendy's father has accepted a job in New York and Wendy will go with him while Lily remains behind with her mother and their four-year-old half brother, Mikey. On the eve of the sisters' separation, Peter Pan and his fairy companion, Belle, visit the Roberts-Darling children and, with the help of some fairy dust, enchant the adventurous Wendy and Mikey and whisk them away to Neverland. Level-headed and scientific Lily finds herself with no choice but to follow Peter's rogue shadow in pursuit.

Once in Neverland, Wendy quickly comes to recognize the rashness of her decision. Peter brings Wendy to be the Storyteller for the lost, other boys he has stolen away to Neverland, stripped of their identities, and held hostage under his tyrannical rule. Decades of exposure to fairy dust seems to have robbed Peter of any humanity he once had and he spends his days kidnapping children to bring back to the island to play his games.

Upon Lily's arrival in Neverland, she is rescued and welcomed by a group of Native kids (who Peter sees as a homogenous group in spite of diverse tribal citizenship) who introduce her to the island and Peter's sinister ways. Ultimately, Lily finds her way to Wendy and the two must reconcile and work together to rescue Mikey and escape Neverland once and for all. This modern retelling subverts the stereotypes that plague the original work by centering Native voices and challenging racism and sexism.

Actor, voice actor, writer, and director Katie Anvil Rich of Chickasaw and Cherokee descent brings the characters to life in her fully-voiced reading. She switches seamlessly between Peter's crowing bravado, Belle's prim British accent, swaggering pirate lingo, and the knowing voice of the omniscient narrator prone to interjections and direct address. Rich's enchanting delivery welcomes the listener into the lives of Lily and Wendy and into the world of Neverland.

Reviewed by Carlina Arsenault
*Natalia Sylvester. Running.
Read by Frankie Corzo.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 12+

Fifteen-year-old Mariana (Mari) Ruiz grows up in a Cuban-American family in South Florida's Miami Dade County. Her father, Anthony, is a U.S. Senator running for President of the United States. In this coming-of-age story Mari learns a lot about herself, her family and her father. She has lived in the shadow of his political campaigns all her life – the pressure, the absences, the image, and the spotlight. After becoming involved with an activist group at her high school, Mari begins to realize that she can no longer accept everything her father says in his campaign speeches. In trying to raise money for his campaign, he is willing to compromise his ideals and the promises he has made to his family, especially Mari. When Mari's best friend, Vivi, loses her home during her parents' divorce due to a politically backed land deal and then Vivi's grandmother is hospitalized after drinking unsafe water for which her father is responsible, she begins to research the issues and think for herself. As her father's campaign manager, Joe, begins shadowing her, intruding on her privacy and interfering in her social contacts, Mari faces a decision about her group's upcoming protest march for clean water.

This fast-paced narration by Frankie Corzo, rendered with many Hispanic cultural overtones and peppered with Spanish expressions, includes voices of Mari's family, her friends of Haitian, Dominican, and Peruvian ancestry, campaign workers, news media – each with differing views of the campaign. The questions multiply – How will the election turn out? What will it do to Mariana's family, and What power does she have to influence the outcome?

Natalia Sylvester's excellent and inspiring audiobook captures the real controversy that shakes the family, the school, the community, and ultimately the political race. Good listening for teens and adults interested in politics, family dynamics, and the future of youth protest movements.

Reviewed by Susan Allison

©2020 SoundCommentary.com