Among the 32 free audiobooks you can collect during this year’s SYNC season, make time to listen to the five novels that offer well written, expertly performed stories that deliver authentic characters you might or might not meet in your own life. Great fiction offers an evidence-based way to develop the empathy you have to offer not just these fictional people but also those you meet along the way of your own life story.
THE MEMORY OF LIGHT, by Francisco X. Stork, a favorite SYNC novelist, and performed by Frankie Corzo, will introduce you to a teenaged girl who makes the brave decision to allow herself to be treated in a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide. You’ll come to know and understand a gutsy protagonist as well as those she meets during her convalescence, thanks to Corzo’s sympathetic delivery.
Another popular author returning to SYNC in 2022 is Bill Konigsberg. Dan Bittner performs the second in the “Openly Straight” series, HONESTLY BEN. Although the first book in the series was featured in an earlier SYNC season, listeners can pick up this one without worry of feeling lost. However, Ben might be willfully losing himself in this novel, by concealing his true identity. Whether it’s sexuality, gender, political belief, or even intellectual rigor, who hasn’t had a moment of hiding your identity because of fear of judgment by new friends?
Bahni Turpin gives an Earphones Award-winning delivery to Kim Johnson’s THIS IS MY AMERICA, forcing us to consider how differently people view their own place in a national culture that espouses one set of values while discriminating among which citizens receive full recognition. While this story is set in the United States, class and caste discrimination happens almost everywhere. Allow yourself to consider how that discrimination feels to someone in your country whom you see as Other, not like you.
Chris Crowe’s MISSISSIPPI TRIAL, 1955, narrated by Victor Bevine, has the murder of Emmet Till as its narrative thread. The plot places listeners inside the mind and heart of an equally young white boy who wrestles with his conscience about keeping quiet or speaking out. This wrestling match is one with which we easily sympathize when we ourselves undertake it; allowing ourselves to understand its power when someone else is experiencing it, however, frequently gets overshadowed by our judgments of their actions or lack of actions. Here’s an opportunity to sit with the discomfort someone else feels while trying to make a decision.
Even lighter topics can give fiction listeners the opportunity to explore empathy. FENCE: Striking Distance, by Sarah Rees Brennan, Johanna the Mad, and C.S. Pacat, is a romantic comedy with an LGBTQI+ heart. Narrator Will Collyer brings all the drama from the original graphic novel, depicting the story’s bevy of different personalities credibly and leaving the audiobook listener to experience their interactions as genuine echoes of real-world interpersonal negotiations.
This summer, let fiction do the heavy lifting of developing your empathy muscles. Great performances make these novels vivid and the characters they portray role models for looking at others with kinder eyes.
Image by Melissa Hogan.