cover image Spontaneous


Aaron Starmer, read by Alex McKenna. Listening Library, unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-7352-8801-0

Actress McKenna creates high drama in her reading of Starmer’s YA novel about a string of spontaneous combusting teenagers at a high school in New Jersey. Members of the Covington High School senior class keep exploding, and no one is sure why. Protagonist Mara Carlyle witnesses the first explosion in her precalc class. She and her friends want to figure out what’s going on, but that’s hard to do when FBI agents and other government agents become a part of everyday life and everyone else is deathly afraid of being contaminated. In the audio edition, McKenna’s deep and throaty voice draws in the listener hypnotically, while her emphasis and emotional expression captures the firsthand account of Mara as she witnesses many of her friends burst. Beyond the aural appeal of her voice, McKenna captures the tone, rhythm, and attitude of the different teenagers present throughout the story, giving each character vocal identities that only rarely skirt the edge of caricature. She’s at her best when the story goes deep into Mara’s thoughts to see the genuine (and not always kind) side of this protagonist. Ages 14–up. A Dutton hardcover. (Aug.)