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September 2020 Earphones Award Winners

The award is given by AudioFile to truly exceptional titles that excel in narrative voice and style, characterizations, suitability to audio, and enhancement of the text.


ANXIOUS PEOPLE
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

Marin Ireland uses her many theatrical gifts in her fine narration of this bittersweet novel. The listener is treated to an exceptional audio experience in which the narrator plays all the parts with nuance and wit. She modulates her pace and tone as she brings this human comedy to life. At once a send-up of Swedish mores and a deeply humane story of contemporary struggles,... Read More

BEFORE THE EVER AFTER
Earphones Award Winner
Children

Guy Lockard delivers an outstanding performance of Woodson's brief, eloquent story of 12-year-old ZJ Johnson, Jr., whose father, a former pro football player, is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The story is set in the early 2000s, when little was known about the dangers of repeated head injuries. Lockard makes effective use of pitch and pacing as he gives... Read More

BEOWULF: A NEW TRANSLATION
Earphones Award Winner
Classics

Narrator JD Jackson addresses his listener as "bro" in this decidedly contemporary retelling of the classic saga. Headley's translation has received attention for recasting female characters like Grendel's mother into strong women warriors, rather than the usual monsters and hags. More remarkable is her infusion of a modern idiom and storytelling style into the traditional... Read More

BRAVE ENOUGH
Earphones Award Winner
Biography & Memoir

Narrator Allyson Ryan has found that magical spot that makes listeners forget they're not listening to a memoir read by its author. In this audiobook, elite cross-country skier Jessie Diggins shares the details of her life--from growing up in rural Minnesota to standing on the podium in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to accept the United States' first ever Olympic Gold Medal in... Read More

BROTHER ROBERT
Earphones Award Winner
Biography & Memoir

Narrator Janina Edwards perfectly captures the graceful cadence and dignity of a woman in her 90s as she reminisces about her childhood in Depression-era Memphis. She pays tribute to her stepbrother, Robert Johnson, who took her to county fairs and entertained children by singing nursery rhymes and playing guitar. Author Annye Anderson fills in the gaps between Brother Robert,... Read More

THE CANYON'S EDGE
Earphones Award Winner
Children

Narrator Casey Holloway displays a full range of emotions in this gripping novel in verse. Eleanor is a survivor of a senseless shooting that killed her mother. She and her father struggle with loss and PTSD. They embark on a desert rock-climbing trip that goes terribly wrong, leaving Eleanor to survive alone without resources. Holloway is superb at capturing Eleanor's emotions... Read More

DEAR JUSTYCE
Earphones Award Winner
Young Adult

Nic Stone narrates powerful author's notes that frame her story and tell of her inspiration--teens without the opportunities that her first book's hero, Justyce, had. Dion Graham delivers first-person letters and the raw third-person story of 16-year-old Quan, who is wrongly incarcerated in a juvenile detention center. Quan and Justyce bonded as boys when Quan still hoped for a... Read More

EAT THE BUDDHA
Earphones Award Winner
Contemporary Culture

This audiobook is a riveting and unforgettable listening experience. Barbara Demick recounts the invasion of Mao's army into Tibet, the resistance, the brutal oppression, the exile of the Dalai Lama, and the self-immolations of Tibetan monks. She deepens that history with a focus on the townspeople of Ngaba, in particular a former princess, an activist, an entrepreneur, and a... Read More

FRY BREAD
Earphones Award Winner
Children

Kevin Noble Maillard, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, narrates his own audiobook about the beauty and complexity of the Native American staple, fry bread. His personality bursts through as he speaks with passion about its historical significance and about his personal connection to it. Moments of playfulness will hook young listeners into learning about the... Read More

GROWN
Earphones Award Winner
Young Adult

Sensitive listeners should heed the content warning about child abuse, rape, and other issues contained in this audio. Joniece Abbott-Pratt's narration is so authentic that those who listen should be prepared to fully enter the uncomfortable world of 17-year-old Enchanted. Abbott-Pratt portrays a teen who's not undone by microaggressions at her nearly all-white school and... Read More

HARROW THE NINTH
Earphones Award Winner
Science Fiction

Moira Quick expertly narrates a complicated sci-fi puzzle. Harrowhark Nonagesimus is in training to save the universe. However, her body and mind betray her at every turn, and no one--not even she--is as they seem. The plot is mind-bendingly complex, but Quirk adroitly steers Harrow through all its twists and turns, even when they defy logic or reason. As the story progresses... Read More

INTIMATIONS
Earphones Award Winner
Contemporary Culture

Listening to award-winning author Zadie Smith read her collection of six personal essays about life in the year 2020 is such a transcendent experience that when done, I started again from the beginning. That voice--London-born, smooth, warm, well modulated with a hint of gravel and exquisite articulation. The pace--quick but not too fast. Her "here's the thing" attitude. Her... Read More

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

Marin Ireland narrates a stunning audiobook that explores race, class, family, and global catastrophe. A married couple and their teenage children are on summer vacation at a rented secluded home in the Hamptons. However, the house's owners arrive unexpectedly after fleeing New York City during a mysterious blackout. While the situation is uncomfortable, the two families--one... Read More

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

It's hard to imagine a better narrator for Stefano Massini's novel in verse than Edoardo Ballerini. Ballerini delivers this massive fictional history with accurate accents, subtlety, and nuance. The German-Jewish immigrant experience is magnified through the lens of the Lehman brothers--Henry, Emanuel, and Mayer--and their descendants, whose rise from grocers to cotton traders... Read More

THE LYING LIFE OF ADULTS
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

Actress Marisa Tomei's dramatic reading takes the listener inside the mind of a teenage girl struggling to understand who she is. Giovanna has had a sheltered upbringing by her well-educated parents in an upper-class section of Naples, Italy. But when she overhears her father say she is becoming ugly, like her Aunt Vittoria, she insists on meeting the conniving, vulgar aunt her... Read More

MEMBERS ONLY
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

Narrator Sunil Malhotra evokes the pathos of a novel that explores "reverse racism," cyber violence, and cancel culture. Indian-American Raj Bhatt's life is turned upside down when he blurts out the N-word in front of a Black man at his tennis club. To make matters even worse, at the university where he teaches, a group of conservative students accuses him of hating Christians.... Read More

ONE BY ONE
Earphones Award Winner
Mystery & Suspense

Imogen Church's extraordinary narration of Ruth Ware's newest suspense novel will keep listeners glued to their earbuds, unable to do anything else but listen wide-eyed and rapt. In an homage to Agatha Christie (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), Ware has taken the premise of people trapped in an isolated house with an unidentified killer; cleverly adapted the who, where, and what to... Read More

ONE LAST CHILD
Earphones Award Winner
Mystery & Suspense

Narrator Caroline Lee inhabits this mystery set in Katoomba, Australia. Teachers are setting up a picnic for 19 kindergarteners when five of them, including the granddaughter of homicide detective Kate Wakeland, mysteriously vanish. Lee's delivery of both the narrative and the dialogue is flawless--diverse emotions and local, Indian, and Chinese accents are spot-on. Listeners... Read More

PUNCHING THE AIR
Earphones Award Winner
Young Adult

Narrator Ethan Herisse's voice is soft, slow, and sombre as he narrates the poignant free-verse poems of the fictional character Amal Shahid. Herisse's tone is so tender that one can imagine the sensitive shapes and perfect rhythms drawn and written by this 16-year-old artist-poet before he was incarcerated. Amal and his friends have been arrested for assault after a run-in... Read More

THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING
Earphones Award Winner
Children

P.J. Ochlan's spirited narration enriches this soulful yet humorous story told from the perspective of three unlikely protagonists at a pet shop. Alastair, a cantankerous parrot, literally devours and then reimagines classic literature while concocting desperate escape plans to protect his beloved sister, Aggie. Bertie, a lonely but irrepressible octogenarian, writes heartfelt... Read More

SISTERS OF SWORD AND SONG
Earphones Award Winner
Young Adult

A young adult fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters will appeal equally to adults. Each sister tells her tale in interwoven chapters with narrator Caitlin Kelly speaking for the younger sister, Evadne, and Katherine Littrell, for the older, Halcyon. Kelly depicts the evolution of Evadne from a sheltered, sweet (but underestimated) girl to a scribe for a mage who... Read More

THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS
Earphones Award Winner
Science Fiction

Nicole Lewis captivates with a velvety voice, dramatic pacing, and vibrant characterizations as she narrates this sci-fi novel. Cara is a traverser who has been brought in from the dangerous Wastes and hired by tech giant Eldridge to travel the multiverse and collect data. Listeners can hear her cunning and her drive to stay alive. Entering a world where your doppelgänger lives... Read More

SQUEEZE ME
Earphones Award Winner
Mystery & Suspense

Scott Brick narrates Carl Hiaasen's latest audiobook, a crime farce that takes sharp satirical aim at Donald Trump and other wealthy conservatives. Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, Palm Beach resident and member of an influential Trump-supporting cabal, goes missing at a swanky fundraiser. Soon after, professional wildlife wrangler Angie Armstrong is called to the scene to remove a... Read More

THIS RAINDROP
Earphones Award Winner
Children

Simon Vance is one of those narrators who makes listening to anything a pure pleasure. This audiobook is no exception. His exquisite diction elevates the alliterative, poetic text, highlighting the wonder and awe of one raindrop's epic journey through time. Following this one raindrop, children will be amazed to learn that the same water supply has been recirculating on Earth... Read More

VESPER FLIGHTS
Earphones Award Winner
Contemporary Culture

In this volume of more than three dozen short pieces, author/narrator Helen Macdonald introduces listeners to a literary Wunderkammer--a collection of "strange things . . . concerned with the quality of wonder." Although some essays begin with a human-oriented subject (migraines, a lonely childhood, Brexit), almost all of them make a connection to the natural world, especially... Read More

WHY I DON'T WRITE
Earphones Award Winner
Fiction

The performances by multiple narrators of Minot's collection of short stories create a collective world of fascinating life moments, and one afterlife. Minot's audiobook is filled with compelling human detail. The results are moving and occasionally shocking. Finding the perfect tone of sadness, Andrew Eiden narrates a gently heartbreaking story of a dying woman calling out to... Read More

WOMEN IN THE KITCHEN
Earphones Award Winner
Contemporary Culture

Imogen Church's lively narration pairs well with Willan's informative, often playful survey of women cookbook writers (in the UK and U.S.) who changed culinary history. Church's deliciously entertaining and painlessly educational interpretation serves up fascinating insights about food and its preparation. The audiobook traces changes in kitchens from Hannah Woolley's hearth... Read More

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