One of the best parts about listening to audiobooks is discovering how a great narrator can pull you into a story, paint a full picture of the world within, and leave you feeling as though the characters are real people. The more you listen to audiobooks, the more you’ll find yourself seeking out favorite narrators the same way you do with authors you love. To help get you started, the NetGalley team shared a few narrators they can’t stop listening to.
I started listening to audiobooks in 2019, and one of the very first ones I dove into was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, narrated by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis. I feel as though I have Sean Crisden to thank for my love of audiobooks because it was his phenomenal narration that showed me just how powerful a good audiobook could be. The book tells the story of a newly married couple who are torn apart when the husband is wrongly incarcerated. Crisden brought an amazing depth to his portrayal of the husband, Roy, and I still find myself thinking about it a year later. He has a long list of credits to his name, and I’ve also really enjoyed his work as a narrator for Ruby Dixon’s Icehome series.
Fantasy narrators have the challenging job of capturing the voices of the characters while also transporting readers to a new world. Caitlin Kelly does both every single time! I devoured Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series on audio, which follows the trials of a human heroine fighting for agency and power while living in Faerie. Between Kelly’s incredible narration and Black’s spellbinding writing, I was utterly captivated. Kelly has a lot of narration credits to her name—with genres spanning from YA to romance to fantasy to mystery—and I cannot wait to listen to more from her.
There are some audiobook narrators who are so fantastic that you wish they would read all of your favorite books. For me, that narrator is Robert Petkoff. He narrates Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series. There are currently 17 audiobooks in the series available, and Petkoff still manages to gift a distinct voice to each hero and heroine, and to maintain the voices of characters who appear in multiple books. Cole’s writing, plotting, and characters are incredible and keep me coming back for more, but it’s Petkoff’s stellar performances that ensure I’ll always choose the audiobook over print.
Sometimes authors make the best audiobook narrators and that’s definitely true about Elizabeth Acevedo. Whether she’s writing poetry or prose, Acevedo’s work is incredibly lyrical and she brings out the music and rhythm of language in her audiobook narrations. She’s narrated all three of her books, as well as Pride by Ibi Zoboi. If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend The Poet X enough. It’s a YA verse novel following Xiomara, a high schooler using poetry to make sense of the world around her. Both the book and Acevedo’s narration are fantastic!
My first introduction to Cassandra Campbell was listening to the audiobook for Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and I was enraptured from the moment I tapped play. Campbell’s attention to detail and authenticity brought not only the characters to life, but also the rich environment they were in. Campbell manages to bring a level of intimacy to the audio that made me feel like I was listening to a memoir instead of a work of fiction. Even now when I’m selecting audiobooks, I first search for her name to see what else she has lent her voice and talent to, knowing that she chooses quality stories.
Bahni Turpin is, without a doubt, my favorite audiobook narrator. There’s a richness to her voice that makes her narrations incredibly memorable. She truly embodies different characters and brings out their personalities in such subtle ways. Her backlist of work is remarkable because she has narrated so many powerful stories. My favorite that I’ve listened to is On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, which was really special because the story follows a young rapper and Turpin slays all of the verses. Turpin adds so much to this book for me, like her Southern accents, which helped further immerse me in the story.
I recently listened to the audiobook of Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I loved the narration so much that as soon as I finished, I immediately looked up the narrator to see which other books he had worked on. Graham perfectly captures the urgency and emotional struggle that Stone weaves through this short novel and deftly portrays a realistic voice for teenage Justyce. Discovering that Graham narrates most of Stone’s books made me even more excited to dive into them.
I’ve listened to many books that Julia Whelan has narrated. From literary fiction to YA fantasy, Whelan narrates a little bit of everything and does it so well. My favorite that I’ve listened to was Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. There are three points of view, and Whelan made each feel unique and different so it was really easy to follow as the chapters changed. This book was extremely emotional—dealing with the struggles of adoption and teenage pregnancy. Whelan’s storytelling ability helped to capture how powerful Benway’s words were and I was bawling for most of the listen.
Jason Reynolds is a literary rockstar. His poetic verses are incredible and the only thing that tops them is listening to Reynolds read them himself. Poetry is always very special when read aloud, but hearing the poet read their own work is amazing because you get to hear the natural flow they intended when they wrote it. Long Way Down was the first book I listened to by Reynolds and I immediately started another when I finished. His voice is so strong and powerful, yet really calming, even though his words can be filled with intense emotions and themes. I am just awed by his work.