Love, Aubrey is my second grief-stricken-mother-abandons-surviving-daughter novel I've listened to this year (Everything is Fine being the first one.) Even though they are quite different, two is more than enough, thank you. Unlike Mazzy, Aubrey's mother has physically (as well as emotionally) disappeared, but the hurt and the way the two girls do everything they can to sustain an appearance of normality are quite similar. In this novel by Suzanne LaFleur, however, the adults wise up a little sooner. Aubrey's grandmother shows up and removes Aubrey from her home in Virginia to come live with her in Vermont. It is there that almost-12-year-old Aubrey begins to recover from her losses.
An air of profound sadness and grief permeates this novel, understandably. Aubrey feels the losses in her life physically and is slow to confide her feelings to anyone. She finds she is able to write letters about her life first to her younger sister's imaginary friend, then to her dead father and sister, and finally to the mother who abandoned her. I found extremely touching the way an incident in her present would cause her to flash back to a happier moment of her past. (Although I had no trouble identifying the time shifts while listening, I wonder if there is a visual indication in the print version.) While sad, it is also hopeful, as once in Vermont, Aubrey is surrounded by caring adults -- and a new best friend -- so a reader can have confidence that things will get a little better for her.
A narrator named Becca Battoe reads Love, Aubrey. I've never heard her before, but she has a husky, slightly childish voice that works very well for Aubrey, who tells us her story. Aubrey's grief is palpable in Battoe's well-paced and sensitive interpretation. Unable to share her feelings with anyone else, Aubrey is slowly confiding in us. I wonder if we listeners feel Aubrey's grief that much more intensely because we are listening.
As a listener, though, it is hard to sustain this connection; I attribute this to the narrator, who creates a number of characters who were vocally offputting for one reason or another. We hear more than once that Aubrey has a slightly Southern accent, yet it rarely shows up in her voice. Even though it's mentioned in the novel, it would be completely fine if she doesn't have one in the audiobook. But to have one that comes and goes is one of those things that gets you thinking about the accent and not about the book.
Other instances where this narrator's choices pull you out of the audiobook: In flashbacks, Aubrey's sister Savannah has a very twangy Southern accent (why does she have one and Aubrey doesn't?). Aubrey's Gram is introduced to us with a mysterious accent (northern New England?) that vanishes pretty early on in the story (what was it in the first place and why did it go away?) There are several adult males who sound like Battoe was uncomfortable voicing their dialog, they speak in a low register with generic gruffness. The school's guidance counselor, Amy, is someone Aubrey is initially suspicious of, but becomes close to over time. Yet the counselor's voicing is so stiff and formal that I have no sense that she is a warm, caring person, one that Aubrey eventually trusts to share her losses.
These concerns don't make this a poor audiobook, just not an outstanding one. I liked Battoe's voice plenty; I hope there's another opportunity for me to listen to her read.