If you’ve looked at this year’s YALSA Hub Reading Challenge list you’ll know that, in addition to books and graphic novels, there are also award-winning audiobooks. And if you’ve yet to give them a try, let me wholeheartedly give my endorsement. Audiobooks offer another way to experience literature, and when done well, that listening experience may even prove better than reading the book. The narration alone usually requires the listener to slow down and think, allowing one to hear the changes in tone and nuance. Above all, listening lets us feel the power in spoken words.
I recently listened to the audiobook of Scowler by Daniel Kraus, this year’s young adult Odyssey Award winner. The narrator was the amazingly talented Kirby Heyborne, who did a truly remarkable job bringing these characters to life. The way he vocalized each individual’s distinctive personality–from the deep gritty sound of Marvin Burke, to Sarah’s soft, slurry tenor and the exaggerated voices of Ry’s toys–added a masterful layer to a story already rife with physical and psychological trauma.
That said, while I certainly applaud the merits of the audio performance and the novel’s extraordinary writing, Scowler was not a story I enjoyed, and had I been reading it rather than listening to the audiobook, this is one I would have put down early on. The fact that it’s on the YALSA reading list was my main reason for selecting it. I was also looking for something outside my comfort zone and Scowler definitely fit that bill. I am not a horror fan and to Daniel Kraus’ credit, his writing was so descriptive and chilling that at times, I felt ill. Really, I could only listen to this in small increments because the story had me so rattled.
There are some very dark places the author explores in the psychotic mind of a father and the rapidly deteriorating sanity of a son. A stranger’s appearance outside their home foreshadows the vise of terror that will grip 19 year old Ry Burke, his mother, JoBeth and sister, Sarah. Shortly thereafter, the explosive crash of a meteorite on the family farm lends a surreal, otherworldly quality to all the events that follow. The countdowns, both before and after the impact, begin each chapter and add to the suspense. Ry’s memories of the suffering he and JoBeth endured, and the events that led to his father Marvin’s incarceration, are horrific and only heighten the panic of their current situation.
This is not a book for marshmallows like me, and I would recommend it for true horror fans only–those of you who can read Stephen King and shrug. But what I said about the power of spoken words? Scowler may prove to be more frightening as an audiobook. The sounds and voices that narrate this story are scarier than anything you’ll imagine in your head. Listen, and let me know what you think.