Saturday, July 5, 2008

Adoring review

OK ... I raced through the audio version of this amazing book! I just needed to reach the end. However I don't want to spoil the unfolding story for anyone, so ... briefly, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson introduces us to 17-year-old Jenna just after she's woken from an 18-month coma following a terrible car accident. Her family has moved her from Boston to a quiet California coastal town, and that's just the beginning of what seems not quite right to her. She's got memory loss, but only about certain things. Her adored and adoring grandmother seems distant and her control-freak mother even more managing. What Jenna finds out is truly chilling, but also thought-provoking, moving and filled with tension. It is a terrific book.

The audiobook meets this great story and takes it to another level. The reader is an actress named Jenna Lamia, who I've actually seen as a performer (as well as listened to). I always perk up when I recognize a narrator's name in TV or movie credits ... oh, that's what she looks like! I remember her from Oz. Digression aside, she really does a fine job of narrating Jenna Fox. She has a girlish, whispery voice that she uses to great effect, but she's not afraid to pull out some volume, harshness, and maturity when the book calls for it. Lamia is particularly skilled at distinguishing between Jenna, her mother, Clare (Claire?) -- all uptight and controlling, and her grandmother, Lily -- aged (but not fakey sounding) but sharp-tongued and acid. In addition, the story's men and boys sounded like real people.

But where she (and the story) really clicked for me was how she patiently ratcheted up the tension -- we are learning about her missing months as she does. (There was one point in the story that I thought I was ahead of her, but it turned out that I was wrong.) And, as we are never quite sure how Jenna is going to react to what she finds out, Lamia keeps that uncertainty palpable as she varies her reading pace, demonstrates Jenna's wide range of emotions through her voice, and consistently maintains the other characters she's created.

I've heard her read two other audiobooks, one of which was the fine Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson (omg, who died last month!), which went on our 2007 list of audiobooks (I didn't start blogging until last year). Lamia created another standout performance, this time of a disabled teenager -- whose internal conversations sounded just like any girl born without birth defects, but whose actual dialogue seemed to me to accurately reflect her cerebral palsy. Her interpretation took that book to a completely different literary experience.

Oops, got a little sidetracked. Jenna Fox was published by Macmillan Audio, a new (?) audiobook publisher ... well, new to us. One area for improvement: At the end of the novel was a brief interview with the author. Alas, no one introduced this segment, the interviewer didn't identify herself or the author, and the interview clearly took place over a telephone and sounded terrible. While I still loved the novel and the audio interpretation, it did bring me down quite a bit after the high of finishing the story. It just seemed so unpolished compared to what had come before.

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