I’ve been reading audiobooks long enough now that I start to take notice of narrators I love. When I first began listening to audiobooks, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find narrations that didn’t annoy me, but I’ve honestly been surprised to realize that I’ve only encountered one audiobook that I couldn’t get into because of the narrator—and I ended up loving it in print. These days, I always make a note of the narrators I especially like and search audiobook sites and my library to find other books they’ve narrated. If they happen to be books that are on my radar, they immediately jump to the top of my TBR.
Emily Woo Zeller is one such narrator for me! I first took notice of her narration work in the YA realm, but I was pleased to learn that she had narrated an adult book I really enjoyed a few years back, and she’s narrated everything from science fiction to nonfiction! Her most recognizable audiobook title may be Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but she is a dynamic voice actress with a great list of titles. Here are five great audiobooks narrated by Emily Woo Zeller that I wholeheartedly recommend!
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
When Sana learns that her family is moving from Wisconsin to California, she’s not exactly thrilled—she has a suspicion it’s only so her dad can be closer to his mistress, which her mom doesn’t know about. But once she’s settled in Northern California, there’s a lot to like, including a squad of other Asian American friends and cute Jamie Ramirez. When Jamie actually seems to like Sana back, she’s thrilled but also terrified—no one knows that Sana likes girls, especially not her conservative Japanese mother. But keeping secrets at home and and with her friends leads to major complications, and Sana has to learn to be honest, even when it hurts. Zeller did a really great job of bringing Sana’s insecurities and funny inner monologues to life, and letting the reader root for her, even when she’s making mistakes.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
This collection of essays and short fiction was written by Marina Keegan, a college senior who tragically died in a car accident mere days after she graduated. Her essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral on the Yale Daily News before her death, so her friends, family, and professors (including writers Harold Bloom and Anne Fadiman) came together to ensure the publication of this collection. Keegan was a great writer, and Zeller’s narration of her words illuminates the insight and excitement Keegan had for life, and her passion for the craft of writing. It’s a beautiful tribute to a writer who died far too young.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
I admit that I have never heard Mary Roach speak, but I hope she sounds a bit like Emily Woo Zeller because I loved her narration of Roach’s exploration into the alimentary canal. Zeller makes it sound as though Roach is speaking with you casually, or recounting an experience she had in her line of fascinating, funny work. She talks about everything from sense of smell, taste, weird digestive issues, and interesting history in the study of how our bodies process food. Roach’s aim in this book is not to make you saw “Ew,” but “That’s fascinating!” and with the help of Zeller’s approachable, entertaining narration, this book succeeds in doing just that.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
This delightful romance novel stars Esme, a mixed-race woman from Ho Chi Minh City who agrees to come to America to meet Khai, a successful young man with autism, in the hopes that his mom can negotiate their marriage. Esme needs money, and wants to look for her father in California, and Khai has no idea what to do with her—but he’s certain they can’t ever be together because he isn’t sure he can love anyone. Their romance is a slow burn, full of sweet moments, compassion, and respect for each other. The book is half in Esme’s point of view and half in Khai’s, and Zeller does a great job varying her voice for each character and not sounding ridiculous when she’s narrating Khai’s chapters (sometimes women voicing men make me giggle). I also really enjoyed Zeller’s use of accents and inflection with the characters’ voices!
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei is a 17-year-old MIT freshman. She skipped a grade, and is now on her way to fulfilling her parents’ dream of becoming a doctor. The only problem? She hates germs, she can barely stay awake in Biology, and she wants nothing more than to dance. And when she falls for a Japanese American boy (a no-go for her Taiwanese parents), she knows her parents won’t be able to deal—after all, they disowned her older brother for less. But as Mei begins to explore what she wants and how it differs from what her parents want, she has to find the courage to forge her own way. I listened to this one not long after reading It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, and I was struck by the similarities in the stories—both are teen girls with heavy family expectations, secrets, and love interests of different cultures. Both are funny and sometimes insecure. And yet, Zeller definitely made them sound distinct from one another—Mei is a little more sarcastic, and at times more introspective. Zeller pulls off her voice wonderfully!
Some other audiobooks Emily Woo Zeller has narrated that I am looking forward to reading include Gloria Chao’s second book, Our Wayward Fate; Stacey Lee’s entire backlist; The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas; For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig; and The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee!