Jeena Yi
Q&A with Jeena Yi, Narrator of Sea Change and More!

Jeena Yi is an actor and narrator who has been the voice behind a number of award-winning, genre-spanning audiobooks. From coming of age tales starring unlikely characters, to multigenerational historical fiction, to a story about the lives of women in contemporary Seoul, Jeena brings each of the audiobooks she works on to life.

We caught up with Jeena to discuss her process behind choosing projects, AANHPI Month, and more. Read on, and meet Jeena Yi:

PRHA: What’s your process for choosing projects? Are there any genres or themes you find yourself drawn to?

Jeena Yi: The first question I always ask myself is: “is this a story I would love to hear, watch, read?”

I know that throughout my life I have found great comfort and inspiration from stories in all its different forms. If I come across a project that makes me think, “wow, I would have loved to have read this when I was (this age)” it’s usually a big yes for me. It’s a great privilege and honor for me to be a small part in sharing a story that could affect someone else the same way stories have affected me in the past.

I am particularly drawn to coming of age stories like Sea Change by Gina Chung and Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. It’s so much fun to dive into a character while they’re experiencing a seismic shift in their world and to go on the journey with them as they navigate through the foggy muck that is life sometimes.

PRHA: It’s AANHPI Heritage Month, and I noticed you’ve narrated a number of works written by Asian American authors for Penguin Random House Audio. What does representation in the audiobook field mean/look like to you?

JY: Representation takes many forms. It’s finding narrators of the same ethnic background as the protagonist in the story, it’s respecting the AANHPI author’s wishes about who is voicing their work. It’s seeing AANHPI narrators and authors work being highlighted and promoted equally to their white counterparts. And it’s always striving to do better, to learn from past mistakes and to keep moving towards an equitable future.

PRHA: Soneela Nankani directed the audiobook production of Sea Change. What was it like being directed by a fellow narrator?

JY: Soneela was amazing to work with! She is whip smart, and she immediately made me feel at ease. I trusted her years of experience and she also trusted me, which I was so grateful for and appreciated her help so much in the booth. We also got to just appreciate the beautiful text that Gina wrote together, which is always a treat.

PRHA: How do you prepare for a project in which you are the sole narrator (as in Sea Change), versus when you’re narrating as part of a full cast (as in Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century)?

JY: I treat narrating a book the same way I treat playing a character in a play, tv show, or film. What do I want? How am I trying to get there? What are my obstacles? Then I try to map out the different moments in the book that push and change the protagonist and think about how best to portray that through the medium of an audiobook.

When I’m one of many, I try my best to see where my part fits into the whole of the project. How can I serve the project as a whole? What is my ‘cog’ purpose in this larger machine? How do I make each short story a different delicious confection in this box of candy, but not stray too far off the larger goal?

PRHA: You’re a self-proclaimed baker and crafter! Do you have any audiobook recommendations that would make perfect crafting or cooking companions?

JY: Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee, narrated by Jennifer Sun Bell and Heartburn by Nora Ephron narrated by the incredible Meryl Streep. She does an incredible job just immediately making you feel like you’re inside the protagonist’s head. There is a playful and incredibly captivating quality to it. Fun listen!

I’m also a big fan of listening to memoirs while crafting and cooking, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Chelsea Handler’s Life will be the Death of Me were each beautiful listens.

PRHA: What is one audiobook you think everyone should listen to during AANHPI month (and beyond!)? Why?

JY: This is a VERY tough question. JUST ONE?! If I have to pick only one. I’d say Minor Feelings written and narrated by Cathy Park Hong. I have never felt so seen that I had to stop listening, regroup, and listen again. I think especially for the AANHPI community, we so rarely feel seen and heard that when we do it can be overwhelming. This was a delicious, cathartic, and beautiful 7 hours of being seen and heard without saying a word.

Take a listen to audiobooks narrated by Jeena Yi!

Author: Gina Chung
Read By: Jeena Yi

“Delightful and slightly off-kilter. . . . This off-beat tale has heart.”—Publishers Weekly

“Yi’s pitch-perfect narration keeps listeners entranced until the final moments of this explosive audiobook. A page-turner that listeners will want to start for a second time as soon as they have completed their first listen.”–AudioFile Magazine

“Seamless transitions between all the narrators make it easy to lose oneself in the writer’s imagination. For those looking for variety in audio fiction, this is going to become a fast favorite.”–AudioFile Magazine

“Another outstanding performance is that of Jeena Yi… Her voice is worldly-wise and tough but shows a hint of compassion.”–AudioFile Magazine

“Take a closer look and you’ll find the sisterhood at the heart of this ambitious book. It’s the scaffolding—and also, occasionally, the wrecking ball.”–The New York Times Book Review