Listening Pathways: Kevin R. Free Audiobooks

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

Kevin R. Free is an American actor and audiobook narrator. He’s narrated over a hundred audiobooks for children, teens, and adults. His work spans many genres in both fiction and nonfiction. He jointly narrated Rick Riordan’s popular Kane Chronicles with Katherine Kellgren, and he’s also narrated The Cruisers series by Walter Dean Myers. He’s won several Earphones awards from Audiofile Magazine, including one for his narration of The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

I fell in love with Kevin R. Free’s skills as a narrator after listening to The Sun Does Shine (I’ll tell you about it in a minute) and since then, he’s vaulted onto my list of go-to A+ narrators. He’s got a talent for sinking into one voice and giving a sustained emotional performance that’s almost impossible to stop listening to. But he also excels at doing character voices when called for. I’ve made the decision to listen to several books on my TBR rather than reading them in print just because I saw he was the narrator.

If you’re not sure where to start with Kevin R. Free audiobooks, I’ve highlighted three of my favorites here. These books give you a great introduction to his work, and highlight his many and varied talents. They also happen to be as different from each other as three books can get, so even if all three aren’t for you, hopefully you’ll find at least one new favorite audiobook among the mix. I guarantee that, after listening to these books, you’ll want to track down lots more Kevin R. Free audiobooks.

Start With An Unforgettable Memoir

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

This is not an easy book to hear read aloud, but Kevin R. Free’s remarkable narration makes it worthwhile. After being falsely accused of the murder two men, Anthony Ray Hinton was sentenced to death and spent the next 30 years on death row. This is the memoir of the years he spent fighting for his rights while in prison (Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative eventually got him exonerated), the connections he made with other inmates, and the ways he dealt with horrific treatment. It’s a moving story of one man’s determination, as well as a bleak but important critique of the systemic racism so embedded in the criminal justice system, racism that leads to the death of innocent people, mostly black and poor.

Kevin R. Free’s narration is emotional, alive, and utterly compelling. I often think that listening to a narrator read someone else’s memoir is a good way to get a sense of their style, and that’s true here. Free imbues every word with emotion—all of Hinton’s rage, despair, hope, faith, regret, joy, heartbreak, and even occasional humor come through loud and clear. It’s hard to remember that it’s not Hinton himself speaking, which is the mark of a truly great narrator.

Then Listen To Something Completely Different

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Kevin R. Free’s narration of this hilarious science fiction novella is so different from his work on The Sun Does Shine that it’s almost hard to believe they’re narrated by the same person. That’s how good he is. Set in a future world ruled by massive space corporations, this thoughtful, smart and delightfully funny story is about a security AI who’s hacked its own operating system and calls itself Murderbot. It really isn’t into human company and just wants to watch soap operas, but when out on mission to a distant planet with a group of scientists, something goes wrong, and Murderbot ends up getting involved.

Murderbot’s voice is totally unique and Kevin R. Free captures it perfectly. Its dry observations about human nature, witty asides, and general unease with emotions are what makes this book so good. Free brings all of that to life. His voice is even, measured, and sometimes almost emotionless in a way that’s hard to describe but makes perfect sense. He inhabits Murderbot so completely that now I can’t imagine it speaking with any other voice. On top of that, he gives distinct, unique voices to the diverse crew of scientists on the mission. It’s an all-around gem.

Finish With An Internal, Emotional Novel

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

This is a heartbreaking and beautifully written novel about Wallace, a gay black biochemistry PhD student in a small Midwestern city. It takes place over the course of one summer weekend. Wallace’s father has died a few weeks before, and he spends the weekend working in the lab, hanging out his group of mostly white friends, and becoming entangled with a classmate. It’s a deeply internal novel, and Free’s narration reflects that. He slips into Wallace’s long internal monologues with ease, heightening both the loneliness and the mental spiraling already present. He also excels during the sex scenes, and the passages about the messiness of living in a body; his voice is perfectly matched to the intimacy of the prose. The whole book is steeped in pain, desire, confusion, and loneliness, and you can hear it all catching in Free’s voice. If you’re a literary fiction reader, you will love this book, but even if you’re not usually a fan of prose that loops and twirls around itself, building slowly, you might find yourself loving the audiobook anyway. Free’s voice is steady and grounding. He brings Wallace to life, but he also makes the prose itself sing.

If you enjoy taking a deep dive into the work of one particular narrator, we’ve got listening pathways for Ramon de Ocampo, Dion Graham, and Bahni Turpin.