Monday, 8 January 2018

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can't hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightning strike, it's the rumbling roll of thunder.

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 heard about 'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' from fellow blogger Emma, who wrote about it in her Favourite Books of 2017 so Far. I've been living under a rock these past few months, so I didn't hear about this book when it was published back in January. As soon as I read Emma's brief description of the novel, I knew I had to go out and buy it, and so I did.

Here's the thing; I didn't buy it for the love story, or the cute boy, or the fact that it's YA. I bought it because the main character, Steffi, has Selective Mutism. I've never heard of it discussed in a novel, with very little representation in general mainstream media. Youtuber Jessie Paege occasionally mentions her history of Selective Mutism, which I appreciate, but really, it's rare to hear about it anywhere. The reason this matters so much to me is because I had it when I was a child, and still deal with different types of anxiety, connected to my past.

When  I was little, I didn't know that anybody else had the same problem I did. Everybody I met could talk, and spoke easily and happily. I just couldn't, and when I began to be able to more, the most common question I got, even at age six and seven, was "why didn't/don't you talk?". Even now that that's well behind me, people who've known me that long, or who I tell, always ask the same question, and honestly, it's really difficult to explain.

Mental health, and anxiety are really very intricate. They cannot easily be explained. The symptoms/side effects are different in everyone. Some people feel some parts more intensely than others with the same diagnosis, and others might not even display some aspects of their anxiety at all. However, Barnard manages to convey Steffi's struggle with Selective Mutism in a way that I can relate to, even if I don't act that way myself.

The novel is half anxiety based, half love based.

The anxiety in not romanticised, not overdone, not underdone. In my mind, Barnard expresses it perfectly, beautifully. She makes it seem okay. It's obvious that Steffi is struggling with it, battling with the thought- do I want to 'get over it'? It's obvious that the ability to speak is important, without making Steffi look like some sad loser who can't manage. Throughout the novel, I felt that Barnard had complete respect for her characters, and for me, that was deeply reassuring.

The other main character, Rhys, is deaf, and I'm sure that for anyone else who is also hard of hearing, reading this novel would give them the same sense of warmth that reading about Steffi gave me. He is portrayed as a handsome, desirable, sweet teenager, with an amazing capacity for love.

The characters are not what you would expect of typical teenagers- but this is no object in the beauty of the love story. In fact, I think it makes it better.

I loved this book. I wish it had been out when I was a little bit younger, so I could know for sure, sooner, that I was not ever alone. I'm so glad I read it now too, I still feel like I've gained a lot from it, and kind of want all of my friends and family to read it now.

Barnard's writing style is nice. It's not overly poetic, or richly descriptive, like the novels I tend to like best. It's sophisticated in itself. It doesn't feel like it's dumbed down for the purpose of being YA. I feel that Barnard trusts her audience enough to say exactly what she wants, in a style that is accessible but not boring.

Overall, I have to rate this novel five stars. I have to. I have never before in my life felt as strongly as this, that the author understood me. That she wrote it for me, and for people like me. The dedication, "for the quiet ones", was enough to delight me from the start. It's good in a way books have never been for me before. I'm not in love because of the description or the easily grab-able quotations, but because of how it made me feel. I laughed out loud at various moments too, which is rare for me in literature.

Thank you, Sara Barnard, for writing this book. I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.

endnote: I've had this post written for months, but I felt very unsure about posting it, because it is kind of revealing. Last night I heard about another child with the same issue that I had, and I knew that like Barnard, I had to spread the word to make things easier for other children. Awareness sometimes is the best way to aid people in solving these kinds of issues.

Anna x

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