I quite enjoyed When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery winner, so I was pleased to pick up another of her novels, First Light, on audio from my library. The story sounded interesting. One half of it follows an American boy, Peter, who travels with his scientist parents to Greenland for a few months where they plan to study global warming. Upon arriving in Greenland, he begins to get weird headaches and starts to see things he hasn’t before. He also suspects something is very wrong with his mother.
The second half follows Thea, a girl who lives under the ice as part of a society that fled the surface generations ago due to some unnamed persecution. Thea’s and Peter’s stories (told in alternating viewpoints between the two) eventually intersect, and what ensues is part adventure, part science fiction.
I had such hopes for this book. I didn’t expect anything earth-shattering - just a good read. And I think it would have been a good read had I read it with my eyes and not my ears.
The narration pretty much ruined the story for me. It was voiced by two separate narrators: female for Thea’s story and male for Peter’s. Thea’s character was supposed to have an English accent, but for some reason a narrator with an American accent was chosen. She was not to be discouraged by this fact, though. She valiantly attempted to speak all of Thea’s dialogue in an English accent. It was bad, folks. Not pretty at all.
Peter’s narrator (also an American) doesn’t get a free pass. While Peter himself has an American accent, his mother is English, and the narrator did a pretty bad hatchet job with it. Peter’s sections still weren’t as terrible, though, since luckily his mother didn’t speak all that often.
Add to this the fact that the female narrator’s attempts to voice characters with deeper vocal registers also failed (even the grandmother sounded odd, not just the males), and you have a deeply unsatisfying audiobook. (Also, it irritated me to no end that Thea's name was pronounced tay-uh by both narrators, when I read it as thee-uh on the back of the case. My pronunciation is probably just completely wrong, but I like being able to pronounce things incorrectly in my head when I read.)
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by (American female) Barbara Rosenblat, who can voice both English and male characters like nobody’s business. Maybe I’ve been equally spoiled by Jim Dale, whose voice is so expressive he could make me think a bad accent was completely intentional (all his accents are terrific, though).
I’ve listened to audiobooks where the narration was merely so-so, and I was able to hear the book shine through it. This was not one of those instances. I think the writing and the story of First Light are good, and the book’s demise in audio is very unfortunate. Definitely pick this one up in print.