Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk. Rhys can’t hear. They understand each other perfectly.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

I picked up a proof copy of this at the YLG conference back in October and it was one of the first books I read when I got back home. As well as being a love story, it’s also a beautifully written exploration of the subtleties and nuances of different modes of communication and language – the feelings of isolation and exclusion that come with not being able to communicate in a way that is perceived as the norm, and joy and triumph at finding a way to express yourself to someone who understands. Texting; talking; lip-reading; British Sign Language; writing and online messaging – all these forms of communication are featured in this story and all of them come with their own advantages and difficulties, clarity and misunderstandings.

The relationship between Steffi and Rhys feels natural and authentic and builds nicely as the story, and their importance to each other, progresses, and the other important relationships in Steffi’s life, including  those with her parents and best friend Tem, are also explored. Steffi’s friendship with Tem was one of my favourite elements of the book – joyful, intense and, as many teenage friendships seem to be, characterised as much by the secrets they keep from each other as the secrets they share.

Indeed it seems that this book is as much about what is not said as what is. One of the things that Steffi chooses not to tell Tem for a long period of the book is that she has started taking tablets to help with her anxiety. The reader knows this early on though and it’s a crucial factor in ensuring that this book doesn’t fall into the “problems cured by getting a boyfriend” category.

Overall this is a well-written, and obviously well-researched, hopeful story with central characters that are easy to warm to and a strong supporting cast.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is published on 12th January 2017 by Macmillan.

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