Sara Barnard's Beautiful Broken Things was one of the most talked about young adult novels in 2016, and rightfully so. Her raw insight into teenage lives and female friendships created a beautiful yet devastating read. I was so enthralled by it that I had to finish the story very late at night, even though I was falling asleep (and I feared it was going to end badly – not ideal bedtime fare). Needless to say I was very excited when a proof of Sara's new novel arrived in the post, this time around focusing on two teenagers who each in their own way struggle with communication.
Steffi is selectively mute, which means that she can talk in front of the people she knows and trusts, but in social settings and in places she's unfamiliar she has difficulty speaking. While through years of practice and therapy she has gotten somewhat better, her communication levels are still nowhere to that of her peers, and a lot of her feelings and thoughts go unsaid and unheard.
She finds out she isn't the only one struggling in a verbal way when a new boy comes to her school. Rhys is deaf, and because Steffi learned sign language to help her communicate when she was younger a teacher thinks that Steffi is the perfect person in the school to show Rhys around.While she isn't happy with this assumption from her teacher initially, Steffi soon relishes the fact that being able to communicate is far easier with Rhys, and the two grow close and closer.
But while Steffi believes Rhys is helping her out of her shell and her plans for her future could potentially become a reality, her family thinks that Steffi's world is actually shrinking and a relationship between the two might be damaging in the long time.
In A Quiet Kind of Thunder, author Sara Barnard gives a voice to someone who doesn't often get one in YA fiction, or any kind of fiction. Getting an insight into Steffi's anxieties and the way her selective mutism impacts not only the way she communicates with other people, but also how the world views her and her chances in life are fascinating yet heartbreaking.
Steffi is an intelligent character, one with many plans for her future, but because of this one limitation it's a real struggle for her to achieve this. From the outside it may seem so easy that she should just talk more, but it's anything but and that struggle feels very realistic on the page.
And then there was lovely, lovely Rhys. Facing similar issues, in that communication for him is different than for people who can hear, being deaf comes across as being more accepted and less limiting. Neither of which is true. it's not Steffi's choice to be who she is, and both she and Rhys have so much to say, it may just be that people don't take the chance to listen.
This isn't just a novel about struggles in communication or finding a voice. It isn't even only about anxiety and being deaf. It is about two people who first bond over one mutual thing and who slowly start to share much more together. It's about first love and sex. About growing up and accepting yourself. About overcoming struggles and limitation through hard work; every single day.
And despite Steffi and Rhys' relationship moving into the centre of the story it isn't an overly lovey dovey read. Beyond the romance and beyond the issues of communication, there is so much more to them; individually and together. Hopes and dreams and wishes and needs, all of which quietly rumble under the surface until their mutual desire to be heard and listened to finally explodes.
As Steffi and Rhys fell in love with each other, I fell in love with them and the book. True to its name A Quiet Kind of Thunder starts off silently and unassuming, but it'll hook you in until that final thunderclap.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is published by Pan Macmillan and you can get your copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
Connect with the author: