Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

True Confessions of an Audio Book Virgin (an audio review of Rotters and Scowler by Daniel Kraus and tips for highlighting audio books in your collection)

I am fairly new to audio books.  Not as a supporter, I have always understood their value and been a huge supporter of audio books.  I have just never personally been a listener.  In part, it was probably because I could take my kids to school and walk to work in my previous location – all within about 15 minutes.  There simply wasn’t time or a need.

Fast forward to now.  I have a 45 minute commute 3 times a week to my library. Sometimes I listen to NPR or music, but I have recently started listening to audio books on occasion.

It began with Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  It was one of the few YA titles my small branch library had, and as you know I became a huge fan of the series.  There were times when the Tween and I would want to just keep driving because we didn’t want to turn it off.

Next came book one in the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter, which my tween loved as well.  She has continued reading the books in the series on her own after having been introduced to it via audio.

And more recently, I listened to both Rotters and Scowler by Daniel Kraus on audio.  This was an interesting experiment for me as it was the first time that I listened to books that I had already read and was a huge fan of.  I embraced this experiment with gusto because it gave me some real genuine grounds for comparison.  Listening to the books . . . it was such a different experience.

It helps that Rotters and Scowler both have a really great reader, Kirby Heyborne.  A good reader makes all the difference and Kirby Heyborne is truly awesome (and deservedly award winning).  Both Rotters and Scowler are about some very down on their luck teens; life has not been kind to either of them and Kirby (we’re on a first name basis now apparently) really brings that pathos to life.  When you read the words on the page, you tend to hear it in your voice, but hearing it in another voice – a voice more experienced at bringing nuance and performance to a story – there is new breath and life in these characters; there is heartache and terror in all the right moments in ways I couldn’t have even imagined in my head.

Scowler is the story of 19-year-old Ryan Burke and his father, who is a monster hiding behind the mask of a man.  Throughout the book his dad has a vocal tic, a tell if you will, that appears on the page as “Hmmmmm hm hm hmmmmm. Hmmmm hm hm hmmmm.”  When you read it on the page, it’s hard to imagine in your mind’s eye what is happenng.  But Heyborne hums this line over and over again with such a powerful, subtle menace that it suddenly clicks into place for you.  Marvin’s tell speaks of his arrogance and his power over others, and it is the subtle horror movie music that happens and lets you know that something sinister is on its way.  Hearing this element of the story put it in context and gave it a clarity that I did not fully comprehend reading it because I was unsure of how it should sound simply staring at the words.

Rotters and Scowler are both disturbing stories, and I mean that in a good way.  They also resonate because in the midst of being entertainingly horrific, they also remind of the human experience.  Rotters is unique in that Kraus sets up to like a character and then drags him to the depths hell and makes him almost completely despicable.  I have said it before, but it is such a bold storytelling device.  Plus there is the grave robbing angle, which I had never read before (although there is some grave robbing in The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey).  I felt sucked in so much more listening to the audio because Heyborne really gives Joey Crouch pathos and gravity.  And then the menace . . . so well done.

During Reluctant Reader week, we mentioned that listening to audio books is a good tool to use with reluctant readers.  I noticed that I listened more closely than I read and that I was tempted to skip some of the more descriptive elements, I was definitely more absorbed in the story and felt a heightened emotional connection with the main characters.  These two audio books would be great reads for struggling teens who like a little bit of terror in their books, think Stephen King.  I will say, they are definitely for more mature teens because of language and violence.  As I mentioned, the Rotters audio is the 2012 Odyessy Award Winner presented by the American Library Association.

5 Tips for Using Audio Books in Your Collection:

1. Create ways to do face out shelving with your audio books in the same way that you do with your print books.

2.  Do displays where you put the book and audio book on display together.

3.  Put together hand outs and electronic resources that educate parents and teens on the benefits of listening to audio books.  Here are some good starting places: Reading Rockets, Research and Articles on the Benefits of Audio Books for Young People

4.  When you are doing a craft program, have an audio book playing in the background.  Participants can listen as they craft.

5.  When doing general theme displays, don’t forget to include appropriate audio books.

A recent edition of Library Journal had a great article on highlighting audio books in your library. Check it out.

Rotters and Scowler, produced by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, Random House, Inc., written by Daniel Kraus and narrated by Kirby Heyborne. 
Rotters audio ISBN: 9780449014950
Scowler audio ISBN: 9780385368353

The tween and I are now listening to The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks on audio. 

Book Review: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Some children are born to monsters, and 19-year-old Ryan Burke is one of those boys.  He grew up on a farm under the thumb of a monster wearing the mask of a man, a man that he called father.  As his father’s violence grew, Ryan shrank.  Until one morning, his father tells him his mother is sick and he should not bother her in any way.  Ryan knows that something beyond a beating from a baseball bat has taken place, and he looks.  In this single event, life forever changes and his family decides to run.  Ryan runs for 36 hours and in many ways, he is never the same again.

Fastforward to the present time: The monster wearing a man’s face sits in jail, the farm has stopped producing anything of value, and the remaining family are waiting to move any day now and start a new life.  Ryan’s sister looks up to the sky waiting for a coming meteorite shower, but that is not the only storm that is coming.  The night the meteorite falls will change everything forever, and once again Ryan and his family will find themselves trying to run from unspeakable terror.

Daniel Kraus is the author of Rotters, a book that still haunts me to this day.  I was anxiously looking forward to this new release.  From the title to the premise, I have been intrigued.  While reading Scowler, I live tweeted my thoughts.  You can read the Tweet review, or jump below to the longer, traditional review. Scowler by Daniel Kraus will be published in March of 2013 by Delacorte Press. ISBN: 978-0-385-74309-9. This review refers to an advanced readers copy.

A Tweet Review

I Live Tweeted my reading of Scowling under the hashtag #readingSCOWLER, and some of the Tweets can be found below.

The Long Form Review
Scowler by Daniel Kraus is a novel of terror in the very truest sense of the word, but in focusing on the very real terror of domestic violence as opposed to the supernatural, Kraus reminds us that people are often the most dangerous monsters of all – and he does so with a ferocity that will not soon leave you.  The story will repulse and terrify you, but what will haunt you even more is the knowledge that people are living this story in real life.  And like I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, there is some good discussion to be had around the concept of nature vs. nurture: if you are born to a monster, do you have any chance of not becoming a monster yourself?  In fact, Kraus is no stranger to creating characters that step close to the brink of being monsters – see Rotters for a prime example – and it is definitely an accomplishment to get readers to root for the redemption of characters that seem so close to being irredeemable.

Kraus also does desolation incredibly well. The parched land and creeping poverty are so richly described, you feel the now barren soil being slowly blown away beneath your feet as you read.  The father is a richly drawn, golden fork tongue of a man that we can all relate to; the type of man that just shimmers with a layer of oily evil on the skin that we think we sometimes catch glimpses of but fools the rest of the world.  His very large and powerful presence looms over the family even when he sits in prison.

What really works pheonomenally well is the claustrophobic terror that Kraus creates by telling his story in such a narrow time stamp and by having such a small cast of nuanced characters.  The story is told by counting down to the meteorite crash and then counting the time after the meteorite crash, and it all takes place within the space of a few days.  By keeping the microscopic focus on this dysfunctional family of four, the terror is inescapable, there are no moments to catch a breath and at times, there is little reason to hope for the best.  It evoked for me that slow, creeping feeling that you get when reading (or watching) The Shining by Stephen King.

If I had any moments of hesitation in recommending Scowler, it would be due to the superfluous use of really big words (I even had to bust out the dictionary and look a couple of them up), that in some ways didn’t really make sense to the story.  Our main characters are a family of failing farmers, the main character himself professes to be mostly a C- student, and yet the SAT word count is really high and sometimes distracting, especially when you consider some of the most beautiful sentences that Kraus writes are beautiful because of their very simplicity of emotion and terror.  I am a huge advocate for teens and hate it when people undersell them, but even I worried as I read Scowler that the language would make the story inaccessible to far more teens than not. 

Scowler is a tight, claustrophobic thriller that will terrorize you – and I mean that in good ways.  It contains one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever read in a book.  It will remind you of the terror and menace of Edgar Allan Poe and classic Robert Cormier, as well as contemporaries like Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King.  If you are looking for a novel that oozes a black, inky terror, you have come to the right place. 4 out of 5 stars.