Sometimes I’m in the mood for books that hit me with a bang—lots of plot twists, non-stop action, intricate and creative world-building that makes me gasp. And sometimes I’m in the mood for quiet books—the ones that are no less impactful but that get to where they’re going slowly. One of my favorite iterations of this second kind of book is stories that string together many small moments of rebellion and change. Our lives don’t always shift in one big dramatic moment. Often, the biggest changes happen over time, and sometimes in ways that we can’t even see or understand until years later. These three audiobooks are all about the incredible power of those small rebellions.
Malinda Lo’s beautiful coming-of-age novel A SCATTER OF LIGHT, narrated with a wonderfully authentic teenage intensity by Annie Q, is all about the ways that small rebellions can eventually become catalysts that change the trajectory of a life. After she experiences harassment at a high school graduation party, Aria’s parents send her to Northern California for the summer, to live with her famous artist grandmother. Away from home and the best friends she’s known forever, Aria begins to try new things and experiment with new ways of being in the world. She tumbles into a messy affair with her grandmother’s gardener, discovers queer culture, and starts expressing herself through art. Annie Q captures all of Aria’s tumultuous emotions, from the rush of first love to the ache of first heartbreak. She also excels when it comes to the voices of the many people in Aria’s life—her new queer friends, her writer father, her old bestie, and her distant mother. This is such a raw and honest story about coming into self—and all the little rebellions and big mistakes that happen along the way.
Another wonderful novel from last year about a woman slowly discovering who she truly wants to be—though in a very different context—is Ashley Herring Blake’s charming romance ASTRID PARKER DOESN'T FAIL. Kristen DiMercurio’s energetic narration captures the spirit of the book perfectly. Interior designer Astrid has spent her whole life struggling under the weight of her mother’s expectations. So when she’s hired to redesign the iconic Everwood Inn for a reality TV show, she’s determined to do it perfectly. But she not prepared for carpenter Jordan Everwood undermining her at every turn—or for the way Jordan makes her want more for herself.
DiMercurio uses her voice to highlight the changes Astrid goes through, from uptight and afraid to loose and joyful. She times Astrid and Jordan’s banter perfectly and gives all of Astrid’s friends distinct voices that make the small community of Bright Falls, Oregon, feel vivid and real. And while this audiobook is certainly a fun and sexy romance, it’s also a moving story about a woman who makes one small change, and then another, and then another—until she’s small-changed her way into a new and much more fulfilling life.
If you’re in the mood for a memoir about small rebellions (and sometimes big ones), and especially if you enjoy books about how all of these rebellions intersect over decades to shape a person’s life, you will not be disappointed with Isaac Fitzgerald’s intimate memoir DIRTBAG, MASSACHUSETTS: A Confessional. The subtitle feels apt, because this book truly feels like a series of confessions, and the openness and honesty with which Fitzgerald shares them is only amplified by his narration. In a series of linked essays, he writes about his difficult childhood in the woods of central Massachusetts, his bewildering years at boarding school, the many jobs he’s held throughout his life, his love of bars, and more.
His narration is matter-of-fact and easy—it feels a bit like Fitzgerald has just spotted you at a bar, waved you over, and immediately made you feel comfortable with his down-to-earth (and sometimes outrageous) stories. He’s a natural storyteller, and it shows, but what makes this memoir special is Fitzgerald’s willingness to “show his work,” so to speak. He’s spent most of his life learning to rebel against everything mainstream culture has taught him a man should be—tough, mean, independent, uncaring. Through moving, painful, and often funny stories, he shares all the pieces of himself, including the mistakes he’s made, on his journey toward embracing vulnerability.