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“Bringing these diverse books to life” is why Priya Ayyar does what she does. She narrates the books she didn’t have when she was growing up—books that resonate with her experiences as a California-born Indian American. “To think that someone who’s Muslim American or Hindu American or Buddhist American can find a whole genre of YA literature, and YA and adult authors who are writing for them, is wonderful,” she enthuses. In the last couple of years alone, the youthfully chimerical Ayyar has undoubtedly become the go-to voice of young South Asian American and Arab American protagonists. Read our complete interview with Ayyar on The Booklist Reader, here.
Count Me In. By Varsha Bajaj. 2019. 4hr. Listening Library, DD, $38 (9780593106327). Gr. 5–8.
Karina and Chris are next-door neighbors but “have [their] own paths”: Karina is drawn to photography and books; Chris, earnestly narrated by Christopher Gebauer, seeks all things basketball. The two are pushed together when Karina’s widowed grandfather moves in with Karina’s family and becomes Chris’ math tutor. Forced proximity gradually unites the unlikely trio, their bond further solidified when Papa is targeted in a violent hate crime.
Love from A to Z. By S. K. Ali. 2019. 9.5hr. Simon & Schuster, CD, $39.99 (9781508295396). Gr. 9–12.
Versatile Ayyar becomes Zeynab, a 16-year-old Indiana high schooler who’s been suspended for standing up to her Islamaphobic teacher. Author Ali and Tim Chiou round out the full cast #OwnVoices Muslim rom-com. Ayyar, Ali, and Chiou deliver an illuminating performance.
A Match Made in Mehendi. By Nandini Bajpai. 2019. 7hr. Hachette, DD, $24.98 (9781549182570). Gr. 7–10.
For generations, the women in Simi’s family have been sought-after matchmakers—and, whether she admits it or not, Simi has the gift. Ayyar dexterously embodies a broad cast, from breathy-with-excitement Simi, to quietly cautious friend Noah, impatient brother Navdeep, icy queen bee Amanda, nervous wannabe sidekicks, and an entire school waiting for their matches.
More to the Story. By Hena Khan. 2019. 5hr. Simon & Schuster Audio, DD, $17.99 (9781508297864). Gr. 4–7.
Little Women gets a diverse contemporary makeover, in this tale that is relocated to Atlanta and features the Muslim Pakistani American Mirza family of four daughters. Ayyar nimbly embodies the entire extended clan, but is most comfortable as spunky Jam, who energetically takes the narrative spotlight.
The Night Diary. By Veera Hiranandani. 2018. 6hr. Listening Library, CD, $45 (9780525530442). Gr. 5–8.
In her first-ever diary, 12-year-old Nisha records her family’s perilous journey from Pakistan to India during the 1947 Partition. Ayyar is an ideal narrator, embracing Nisha’s evolution from reluctant and reticent to bold and brave.
A Very Large Expanse Of Sea. By Tahereh Mafi. 2018. 7hr. HarperAudio, DD, $30 (9780062888198). Gr. 9–12.
With steely resolve, Ayyar reads through rage, indifference, and desperation, imbuing Mafi’s story about teens falling in love despite intolerant external pressures with the exact sense of suffocation Persian American teen Shirin feels as she’s othered, questioned, and attacked for being American.
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