Two Audio Reviews that will make you think

Summer is a great time to listen to audio books, whether you’re driving back and forth to the beach, to camp or to visit relatives.  Audio books make the trip go faster and, if the whole car is listening, give you something to talk about along the way.

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Okay For Now
by Gary D. Schmidt, Read by Lincoln Hoppe
8 CDs, 9 hours, 18 minutes
Winner of an Odyssey Honor Award for Audiobooks

Doug Swieteck is not in the least bit happy when his father’s temper causes him to lose his job. Instead of just finding another one in the city, his father calls an old buddy, Ernie Echo, who gets him work at the papermill he works for in upstate New York. So Doug, his mother and his older brother have to give away everything that doesn’t fit in a pickup truck and move.  One of Doug’s classmates shows up as Doug’s mom is giving away her plants and gives Doug a jacket signed by his hero, Joe Pepitone.

But even Joe Pepitone’s jacket can’t save the day. Stupid Marysville is a small town, and The Dump, as he calls the family’s new home, is disgusting. Doug has to share a tiny room with his brother, the criminal mind. He has to hide Joe Pepitone’s jacket from him too, or the criminal mind would take it and trade it for something else.

On the first stupid Saturday in stupid Marysville, Doug ends up on the steps of the local library, where he meets Lil Spicer, who teaches him how to drink a really cold Coke. She also gets him a job with her father, delivering groceries for Spicer’s Deli. On his route, Doug meets some of the characters in Marysville, like  and Mrs. Windemere, an elderly playwright with a penchant for different ice cream flavors every week.

And in the library, Doug discovers a treasure–a book of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The book is in a glass case, but Doug is fascinated by the Arctic Tern, whose eyes seem to see more of life than Doug could have imagined.

But life in Marysville is challenging with a family like Doug’s. His brother, the criminal mind, is suspected of robbing several local stores. His father is spending more time with Ernie Echo than with his family. And Doug’s mother is thinking of her oldest son, serving in Vietnam.  Doug’s life in Marysville is filled with ups and downs, love and loss, discoveries and and learning how to see what life is really all about.  His time there changes his life, but his presence in Marysville changes the lives of the residents just as much.

I loved Okay for Now, and I adored the audio recording. The book is set in 1967, and full of details about life in the 60s.  (For instance, Doug earns $5 for a full day of deliveries, and the library is only open on Saturdays.) This was the year of the Apollo Lunar Landing and of Vietnam war protests. It was a turning point year in many ways, and Doug manages to survive things that kids today would consider horrible treatment.

I do have to admit, it took me the full first disc to get into the story. I didn’t like Doug’s accent (he sounded like an imitation Vinnie Barbarino) and I was tired of listening to “So what?” and what Joe Pepitone would and wouldn’t do. But I stuck with it, and I’m extremely glad that I did.

This is a book that could lead to some great discussions for book groups or for families. I would recommend it to middle school and high school readers, but certainly a sophisticated fifth grader could read and enjoy it.  It is recommended for listeners ages 10 through 16, and would be a wonderful sound recording for a family trip, especially with middle school students.

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No Passengers Beyond This Point
By Gennifer Choldenko, Read by Becca Battoe, Jesse Bernstein and Tara Sands
5 CDs, 6 Hours, 6 Minutes

Finn Tompkins is the middle child (and only boy)  between two very different sisters. His older sister, India, is into fashion and gossip and dating–a typical 14 year old.  His younger sister, Mouse, is a genius who has a unique outlook on life and an interest in science and planets.  They live with their mother, who is a teacher. Their father died after a car accident on the way to the hospital before Mouse was born.

When a series of bad decisions leads to their mother losing their house to foreclosure, she decides that Finn, India and Mouse will go live with their Uncle Red. Although she’ll join them eventually, she will have to complete the school year and stay with their aunt in town. It’s evident to the entire family that four more people just couldn’t all fit into Uncle and Aunt’s tiny house.

No matter how hard India argues that she HAS to stay with her friend Maddie…no matter how much Finn wants to stay and play basketball with his team…no matter how much Mouse cries and begs to stay with their mother, she remains firm. The kids are put on the plane to Red Fort and Uncle .

But when they arrive at the airport, it’s not Red Fort.  It’s not even Denver, or Colorado.  The man waiting for them in the airport turns out to be a boy disguised with a mustache. He drives a pink feathered taxi.  The kids are delivered to Red Bird, where crowds of people cheer and celebrate their arrival. India, Finn and Mouse are each given a small wooden puzzle piece and told the only way to return home is for all of them to decide they want to go home, and to join their wooden pieces together. They’re also given a clock, and told that they have 13 hours to decide, but that time will go differently for each of them.  Then each one is brought to all their new house, designed specifically to their interests, with an adult parent-substitute who will provide for all their needs, sometimes even before they ask.

India loves it (she has a direct line via computer to Maddie), Mouse is happy (her new “mom” has all the time in the world for her, plus she loves science experiments), but Finn questions where they are and what’s going on. His questions lead to him being kicked out of his house and trading time for information.

The more Finn discovers, the more he realizes that he has to find his sisters and get home. Unfortunately, it won’t be as easy as Finn thinks, because there are a lot of obstacles in his way, and the biggest one might be India.  And the clocks are ticking down…

No Passengers Beyond This Point was a very interesting book to listen to. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until halfway through the book, and without the actual print copy I couldn’t flip through to see if I was right! It wasn’t until the very last chapter that the full story is revealed in a very clever fashion.  This really IS one of those books where to say too much is to give away the story.  However, I am very curious to know what other readers or listeners think!

I loved that there were multiple narrators for this book–each chapter is from the viewpoint of India, Finn or Mouse, and each had a different narrator.  This was much more effective than a single narrator would be, and gave each of the siblings a unique voice.   The pacing was great.

No Passengers Beyond This Point is recommended for listeners ages 8 to 14. I’d say the book is accessible to kids in grades four through six.  If you like adventures and puzzles, try this book. It’s enjoyable both on tape and in print.  It would also be a great discussion book for a parent-child book group.

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Try either of these audio titles on your next trip, and see what you think!


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