A friend recommended Story of a Girl when it was published last year (before the National Book Award nominations ... yikes, my third audio NBA in nearly as many books!) and in reading I really enjoyed the original voice of Deanna Lambert as created by Sara Zarr. I'm waiting for the audio version of Sweethearts, which is coming later this year? On the other hand, maybe I'm not waiting because I wasn't wild about the author's reading of her own book (and she's reading Sweethearts too). Just to be clear, Zarr read professionally, she has a lovely sounding voice (no odd tics like Sherman Alexie), she paced herself well, it was obvious that she was very confident and familiar with Deanna and her story.
Deanna has been known as the town skank ever since her father found her having sex with an older boy when she was 13 years old. At 17, though, Deanna has decided that it's time to take back her story and tell it properly. Her journey is a powerful one: She makes mistakes, she misjudges those around her, but she learns to move on. It's uplifting in a very honest way (not in a manipulative, cheesy, dare-I-say inspirational way).
I think I wanted more from the reader: I heard Zarr reading in that way that authors do when they are reading their work at libraries and bookstores, almost as if they are afraid of emoting -- because they are writers, not actors. They choose a deliberate near-monotone, perhaps they think their words are enough. Audiobook listeners want more -- we want to hear rage and elation and everything in between (is there much between rage and elation?). We're OK without narrator pyrotechnics, we don't need a unique voice for every character, but I think we do want character! I found Zarr's reading just a bit too subdued. While thinking this, I believe I did hear a narrator's decision: At the beginning of the novel, Deanna is nothing, she has closed herself down. Zarr's monotone could be Deanna. Yet, as Deanna reclaims her story, I did hear more from Zarr -- her reading was tinged with more emotion. I got the faintest hint of that deservedly angry young woman, ready to move on with her story.
I sit firmly on the fence here, waiting for my colleagues to convince me!