Bahni Turpin is known for the depth of her character portrayals and her ability to set a scene, especially her skill at reflecting the tone of all she narrates, from haunting
and atmospheric to laugh-out-loud adventures for youth and adults. These titles highlight
Back Channel. By Stephen L. Carter. 2014. 17.5hr. Dreamscape, CD, $59.99
In this intense look into the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Turpin deftly navigates Carter’s
spidery, complicated prose and plot twists while convincingly voicing the
protagonist, an African American college student, as well as spies and warmongers on both sides of the iron curtain.
Red River. By Lalita Tademy. 2007. 13.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $120
Turpin sets an appropriately atmospheric tone in her flawless reading of
this moving story of hardship and courage following an 1873 riot in Colfax,
Louisiana. Portraying characters as diverse as black farmers and white
supremacists, she convincingly showcases both fears and gritty determination.
Sugar. By Jewell Parker Rhodes. 2013. 5.5hr. Brilliance, CD, $59.97
(9781469274010). Gr. 3–5.
The voice of Sugar, equal parts innocent and naughty, dominates this
post–Civil War saga set on a plantation in Louisiana, where the owners still
regard their sharecropper workers as slaves. Turpin expertly embodies this
impetuous and curious 10-year-old orphan, along with the diverse cast.
The True Meaning of Smekday. By Adam Rex. 2010. 10.5hr. Listening
Library, CD, $65 (9780307711120). Gr. 5–9.
In this fabulous production featuring witty wordplay and a virtuoso
performance, Turpin’s whimsically outrageous voices and sound effects
lead listeners on a rollicking road trip starring a wisecracking alien and an
eighth-grader with attitude who join forces to save the world. Turpin continues the story in Smek for President, also from Listening Library.
The Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead. 2016. 11hr. Books on
Tape, CD, $40 (9781524736279).
In Whitehead’s unsettling exploration of slavery in the antebellum South,
Turpin’s haunting narration evokes the harsh realities of a slave’s life. She
immerses listeners in the lives of the diverse cast to create a mesmerizing
performance of this intense, imaginative, and grim odyssey.
Unstoppable Octobia May. By Sharon G. Flake. 2014. 6.5hr. Scholastic,
CD, $34.99 (9780545746441). Gr. 4–7.
In this highly original mystery set in the 1950s, Turpin imbues the protagonist, the irrepressible Octobia May, with a determination to uncover the mystery
surrounding a tenant in her aunt’s boardinghouse. Turpin enlivens the characters, black
and white, with appropriate accents and inflections.
Now Hear This
ALSO NARRATED BY
BY JOYCE SARICKS
Here Comes the Sun.
By Nicole Dennis-Benn. Read by Bahni Turpin.
2016. 11.5hr. HighBridge, CD, $39.99 (9781681682709).
This debut novel marks Dennis-Benn as an author to
watch. Readers are introduced to the darkest parts of
Jamaica’s past and present—homophobia, exploitation,
sexual assault—but also to 15-year-old
Thandi and her older sister, Margot,
who is determined to save Thandi
from her own bleak existence, even
as the building of a new resort threat-
ens to tear apart their community,
family, and futures. Turpin beauti-
fully captures the poetic rhythms of
Dennis-Benn’s writing as well as the
multitude of accents at play as the story spills between
the glittering, perfect facades of rich tourist traps and the
deprivation of drought-stricken rural shacks. The major
narration is performed with an easy, musical cadence
that gentles and slows as the deep hurts suffered by each
woman—and their lovers, neighbors, and competitors—
are revealed. Turpin keeps this clarity when caressing the
patwa that is such a central part of Dennis-Benn’s Jamaica,
rendering even the most thickly accented characters un-
derstandable to a North American listener without losing
the subtle race and class distinctions that make “plain ac-
cents with British inflections” as essential to the resort’s
waiters as their carefully ironed shirts. White characters
suffer from somewhat less convincing voices, particularly
Georgio, Margot’s impotent German john, but overall,
Turpin’s golden tongue more than does justice to this
stunning debut. —Meagan Black
pretations. In Hill’s debut novel, Samuel
Andresen-Anderson is so immersed in the
online game Elfscape that he misses the news
coverage of his estranged mother throwing
rocks at a conservative
He tries to piece to-
gether what led her to
leave him 20 years ago
and what drove her
From 1940s Norway
to 2011 Chicago, the narrative weaves to-
gether the lives of a manipulative coed, an
uninspired English professor, a video-game
shut-in, a 1968 Chicago cop, a midwestern
revolutionary, a preteen with a very sharp axe
to grind, and a publisher turned soulless PR
man. Fliakos seamlessly embodies each and
every one of them. His pace and pitch rise
and fall with the characters’ emotions, keep-
ing the nearly daylong audio feeling fresh
at every listen. A cameo by Allen Ginsberg
becomes a virtuoso performance when Flia-
kos gives him a Dylanesque twang that is so
much a soundtrack of that movement. He
then moves effortlessly to an indignant twen-
tieth-century millennial who believes that
plagiarism is the fault of a university that
would make her want to cheat. A wondrous
audio epic where the narration completes the
narrative. —Karen Keefe