The National Book Award 5 Under 35 Honorees on Audio

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Kendra Winchester

Contributing Editor

Kendra Winchester is a Contributing Editor for Book Riot where she writes about audiobooks and disability literature. She is also the Founder of Read Appalachia, which celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. Previously, Kendra co-founded and served as Executive Director for Reading Women, a podcast that gained an international following over its six-season run. In her off hours, you can find her writing on her Substack, Winchester Ave, and posting photos of her Corgis on Instagram and Twitter @kdwinchester.

Inkyard Press.

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Right now, a lot of us are grasping for hope heading into the U.S. elections. When I think about the hope, I think of the future of books and the diverse range of voices that have come onto the scene in the last few years. For me, one of the best moments this year happened when the National Book Award announced their 5 Under 35 honorees, and all five writers were women of color. These authors represent a huge part of the future of American literature, no matter what happens this November.

I’ve spent the last week listening to these authors’ incredible debut novels, so let’s celebrate them and their work!

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, Narrated by Deepti Gupta and Sunil Malhotra

In A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza tells the story of an Indian American Muslim family growing up in California during the ’90s and ’00s. After immigrating to the U.S., parents Rafiq and Layla make a home for themselves and start a family. Their three children—Hadia, Huda, and Amar—grow up feeling part of two worlds. The genius of the novel is the detailed characterization. Our three primary viewpoint characters, Hadia, Layla and Amar, often provide conflicting memories of key events in the family’s history, their different perspectives creating a collective view of the family’s life. As a huge fan of family stories, this book was, hands down, one of my favorite books of 2018. The narrators, Deepti Gupta and Sunil Malhotra, narrate the story beautifully, capturing the unique voices of each of the characters.

Halsey Street by Naima Coster, Narrated by Bahni Turpin

An art school dropout living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Penelope Grand feels like she’s adrift, living her life without purpose or direction. But when her dad has a health scare, she decides to return home to Brooklyn after being away for five years. But gentrification has changed Brooklyn. The local businesses she grew up with have closed, and trendy new cafes and grocery stores have taken their place. As she settles back into her old neighborhood, Penelope begins to discover more about who she is and what she’s capable of. In gorgeous prose, Naima Coster’s debut establishes her as an incredible new voice in American literature. Of course, all-star audiobook narrator Bahni Turpin gives us another perfect performance.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang, Narrated by Catherine Ho and Joel de la Fuente

My entire reading life, I’ve struggled with westerns. But C Pam Zhang didn’t come to play, taking on that genre and turning it on its head. Two Chinese American siblings, Lucy and Sam, find themselves orphaned on the western frontier during the California Gold Rush. They begin a journey to find the perfect resting place for their father’s body, carrying him across miles and miles of wilderness. From there, this novel jumps back and forth through time, giving us glimpses into the family’s past and then moves forward into the siblings’ future. I can’t believe Zhang achieved such complexity in her storytelling with her first novel. Catherine Ho and Joel de la Fuente perform the different characters’ perspectives with an incredible depth of emotion.

Luster by Raven Leilani, Narrated by Ariel Blake

There are few main characters that have captured my attention like Luster’s Edie. She is messy and complex, making you feel like you want to shake her and hug her all at the same time. Her story is told in this concise prose, not a single word wasted. Edie begins a relationship with a  married man, and through a series of events, she finds herself living with him and his family. This story is mesmerizing from the first page, and Ariel Blake embodies Edie’s voice, making me feel as if Edie was sitting beside me and telling me her story herself.

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang, Narrated by Catherine Ho, Nancy Wu, and Ren Hanami

Bestiary is a delightful experiment in the power of generational storytelling. When Daughter grows a tiger tail, everything seems to change. Every woman in her family has a story, and each of their stories entangle and intertwine. Daughter looks to find herself in the women’s stories of the past, but ultimately, she must decide what stories she will make her own. Chang’s prose flows across the page, containing elements of fabulism and the grotesque. The three audiobook narrators give a unique voice to Daughter, Mother, and Grandmother, making their stories truly come alive.