STAFF PICK: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Title: Only Child
Author: Rhiannon Navin
Narrator: Kivlighan De Montebello

First grader Zach Taylor’s school is the latest to be flocked by reporters and thrown into the headlines for the most devastating reason: it has been added to the long list of school shootings in the United States. Told from the perspective of a six-year-old boy facing trauma and loss, Only Child could easily and heartbreakingly pass as non-fiction.

Crammed in a coat closet that smells like pee and his teacher’s coffee breath, six-year-old Zach and his classmates listen to gunshots firing through the halls of their school. A gunman entered the building, taking 19 young lives and forever changing the once peaceful community and Taylor family. Growing up far faster than any child should, Zach is a stunning example of the wisdom, optimism, and forgiveness of children that is so often forgotten as we age.

In the aftermath of tragedy, the Taylor family struggles to cope. Zach’s mother focuses on pursuing justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them accountable for the pain their son caused, despite backlash from the community, while his father is more distant than ever. As Zach’s world begins to crumble around him, he loses himself in a magical world of books and art that help lead him, and the adults in his life, on a path of healing and forgiveness.

The author’s ability to storytell from the perspective of a six-year-old boy is striking. Rhiannon Navin dug so deep in subtle, aching ways that I found myself pausing it for the sake of gathering myself. What made the story even more compelling was the narration by young actor Kivlighan De Montebello, who perfectly portrays Zach and made me even more emotionally invested in the story. While I always prefer listening to audiobooks over print, I strongly encourage anyone interested in Only Child to listen to it in audio in order to get the most powerful experience.

Only Child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: The Wife Between Us
Author: 
Greer HendricksSarah Pekkanen
Narrator: Julia Whelan

I’m ashamed to admit my ego convinced me I could figure out the tangled anatomy of the love triangle in The Wife Between Us. The book description even warns that listeners will make many assumptions.

you will assume you are listening to a story about a jealous ex-wife.
you will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
you will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

I thought my creative thinking and investigative skills would allow me to piece things together on my own long before the plot unfolded. I was dead wrong.

Filled with wild twists and turns that make it painful to hit pause, The Wife Between Us swallowed me into the rabbit’s hole of a seemingly picture perfect marriage with unimaginable secrets and dangerous truths. Narrator Julia Whelan makes this story even more tantalizing with her ability to transform into a spectrum of characters, from the calculating Vanessa to the condescending Richard to the impressionable Emma.

At the end of every chapter, I was dying to know more, hoping there would be a critical piece of evidence in solving the plot’s puzzle. More often than not, I was left with more questions than answers. Nothing could’ve braced me for its shocking ending.

The spellbinding relationship between authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen began nearly a decade ago when Hendricks was the editor of Pekkanen’s debut novel. They credit their similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling, as well as their ability to be “curious students of human nature,” to the success of The Wife Between Us.

The Wife Between Us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Title: Speak No Evil
Author: Uzodinma Iweala
Narrators: 
 Prentice Onayemi and Julia Whelan 

Speak No Evil is a new release from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation. Protagonist Niru is a successful student. He received early acceptance to Harvard, is a star track athlete, and is gay. The last bit was a secret, but when it’s accidentally revealed to his conservative Nigerian father, Niru’s life turns upside down.

As this plays out, there is friction with his best friend. Niru tries to cope with the World’s expectations and his conflicting desires without the support of the one person he’s always had by his side. The book brims with confusion and pain. He juggles his father’s shame, his pastor’s preaching, and his personal desires. When he begins to find happiness, his family’s words resonate in his head and he distances himself. His torment piles onto the pressure of high school, and despite Niru’s conscientious attitude, it gets to be too much.

The narrators are excellent. I’ve listened to and enjoyed Prentice Onayemi‘s narration before, and his performance here does not disappoint. The transition between American and Nigerian accents is smooth and clear, and he amplifies the story’s emotion. When the perspective changes and Julia Whelan takes over, the emotion is not lost. 

Uzodinma Iweala brings hard topics front of mind, and left me feeling somber but thoughtful. The writing is elegant and despite the difficult subject matter, I rushed through it. Have you read it? Share your thoughts!

Speak No Evil

 

 

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