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Memoir Audiobooks: Stories of Survival

Inspirational stories about not just surviving, but thriving.

By Jessica Dukes

When going through tough times, it helps to know that others have had similar struggles. In these powerful memoir audiobooks, authors tell how they survive addiction, illness, abandonment, discrimination, abuse and the lasting effects of that fight. Although heartbreaking, there are lessons to be learned here — how to forgive, how to rebuild a life — that we can cherish.

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett, narrated by the author. 11 hours, 45 minutes.

In the early 1970s, Jollett is born into the Church of Synanon, a cult that separates infants from their parents to be raised by cult teachers. One night, Mikel, his mother, and his older brother, Tony, make a desperate and dangerous escape. With no understanding of life on the outside, it takes Jollett years to realize that they live in poverty, that his mother is severely depressed and emotionally abusive, and that his brother is struggling, too. Through the decades, Jollett reconnects with his father, goes to college, forms the indie rock band The Airborne Toxic Event, and learns to forgive. Bonus: The audiobook includes original music from The Airborne Toxic Event’s album of the same name, which acts as a soundtrack to the book.

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, Lara Love Hardin, narrated by Bryan Stevenson and Kevin R. Free. 9 hours, 11 minutes

Anthony Ray Hinton lands on death row for two murders that he didn’t commit, but racism, poverty, and stigma prevent him from successfully pleading his innocence. He realizes he has a choice — lose himself in his own anger, or find a way to live on death row. He chooses the latter, becoming a deacon in the prison and building a community. Decades later, his case catches the attention of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney who finally ends Hinton’s 30-year wrongful imprisonment. Stevenson’s book about the case, Just Mercy, is also a best-seller and a movie.

Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan. 12 hours, 10 minutes.

Raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, the only people Westover knows for most of her childhood are her family. Taught to believe that family is all she needs to survive, Westover doesn’t question their way of life, including her lack of education. While one brother’s violent and abusive behavior is dismissed, another brother’s escape (and college education) inspires Westover to finally choose a different life. At 17, she begins school, a journey that will take her all the way Cambridge University.

High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life by Tiffany Jenkins, read by the author. 8 hours, 53 minutes.

As an addict, Jenkins’ overwhelming mission is to find more drugs, even if that means stealing from the ones she loves. Fast forward a few years, and Jenkins is in jail, going through withdrawal, friendless after burning every bridge ever offered to her. But we also see her amazing recovery and the honesty it takes to plough through every sober day. Now married with children, Jenkins uses social media to reach out to families dealing with addiction or recovery, sharing her incredible story along with messages of hope.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, narrated by the author. 10 hours, 25 minutes.

Walls and her three siblings have eccentric parents who prefer an unstructured life on the road, but reality forces them to settle for less. Instead of buckling down and providing for their children, their father drinks too much and steals what little they have, and their mother simply disengages. The result: four kids who have to find a way to survive and take care of each other. Eventually they manage to leave their parents and build lives out of nothing. Amazingly, Walls’ memoir is full of love and understanding.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon, narrated by the author. 6 hours, 17 minutes.

Laymon’s memoir is about the secrets we keep about ourselves, our family, and even our nation. It’s also about how hard it is to carry them and the promise that comes with letting them out. A black man from Jackson, Mississippi, Laymon copes with violence, career setbacks, and health issues. But what he’s really seeking is something intangible. He wants his family to confront their painful past. He wants his nation to admit that he can draw a line from centuries of discrimination to the singular life that he has lived. In spilling these secrets, what Laymon really wants is for people to learn how to love.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, narrated by the author. 6 hours, 2 minutes.  Raised by evangelicals in Northern England, Winterson’s first book is a fictionalized memoir. Young Jeanette is serious about her faith, and her future as a missionary is certain. Then something unexplainable happens: She falls for a girl her age. At 16 years old, Jeannette leaves the church and has to figure out how to love God, herself, and the person of her choosing. But first, she and her girlfriend have to survive the exorcism demanded by her mother and the church.

Autism in Heels by Jennifer Cook O’Toole, narrated by the author. 12 hours, 39 minutes.

O’Toole isn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until she is 35 years old, but it almost instantly brings her life’s mysteries into focus. For years, she struggles to fit in and creates endless coping mechanisms to disguise her struggles with anxiety and low self-esteem. Now, she lays it all on the table: What life is really like on the spectrum, especially for women. Most importantly, O’Toole encourages autistic women to reframe the conversation about what’s considered “normal” so that they, too, can stop worrying about how to fit in.

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