Fall in many countries around the world means that all thoughts turn to school. Even those of us who are no longer tied to the academic calendar can’t help but remember the excitement of new clothes, new notebooks and pencils, and new teachers.
Today’s audiobook roundup celebrates the return to the classroom in the Northern Hemisphere with four stories that feature a school setting (middle school to university) and one true account of a transformative school in Africa.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE by Saddia Faruqi and Laura Shovan introduces us to two 11-year-old girls who meet in middle school and become friends when they join the cooking club. Sara has more than the usual new-student jitters when she transfers from her small Islamic school to the large local public school. Jewish American Elizabeth is feeling lonely because her best friend is drifting away and her mother is struggling with depression. When the two are picked to be partners in the South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mother, the girls can’t imagine they’d have anything in common. As the pair bonds over a recipe project, they discover they share much more than a talent for whipping up a good dinner. The narration alternates between Nikhaar Kishani and Caitlin Kelly, in chapters told from Sara’s and Elizabeth’s viewpoints. Each performer captures the accents, personalities, and emotions of her character.
Can a serious classical cellist find romance with the star of K-pop boy band in the halls of a prestigious performing arts academy? That’s the premise of Axie Oh’s XOXO, a young adult rom-com. When Korean American Jenny gets the chance to accompany her widowed mother on a trip to Seoul to help a family member, she’s prepared to work hard at her new school, but soon finds herself distracted by Jaewoo, who wants to further his already solid music career. Their growing attraction for each other is complicated by their respective family obligations and very different professional aspirations. Narrator Greta Jung does justice to the variety of characters in this story—young and old, American and Korean—highlighting their individual quirks.
Michelle Richmond’s THE WONDER TEST is about Lina, a recently widowed FBI agent, and Rory, her teenage son, who have just moved cross country to regroup after their loss. Rory’s new upper-middle-class high school seems fairly typical, except for a special achievement test that all Silicon Valley high schools administer. When Rory’s new girlfriend disappears—the most recent of several similar disappearances—Lina’s training kicks in, and she and her son race time to find the girl, discovering the dark side of their new community along the way. Veteran narrator Thérèse Plummer builds the suspense and skillfully portrays both sides of Lina: professional law enforcement officer and worried parent.
THE TRUTH & ADDY LOEST by Kim Kelly is set in the 1980s. Addy, a first-generation German Australian, has a lot to adjust to when she moves to the city to attend the University of Sydney. Like many college students, she’s not sure who she really is and who she wants to be, and she doesn’t trust that she’s worthy of being loved. A chance encounter with an elderly woman, a unique dress, and a certain young man may be the keys to turning her life around. Narrator Caroline Lee’s performance reveals the nuances of this layered audiobook about family, friends, making one’s way in the world, and—of course—love.
Alice Achan, herself a victim of the violence of war, was determined to help other traumatized Ugandan girls by creating a rehab center and school to offer them hope and healing. THE SCHOOL OF RESTORATION, written with Philippa Tyndale, is frank in its descriptions of how kidnapped girls and young woman were raped by rebel warriors and left pregnant and often infected with HIV/AIDS. This audiobook, performed by Ratidzo Mambo, details the barriers girls face when trying to get an education as well as the residual horrors of war, especially for girls and women. Mambo’s expressive delivery helps us absorb this sometimes disturbing but ultimately hopeful memoir.