Title: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder
Author: Sara Barnard
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Published: January 12th 2017
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.
“Remember life is about dialogues, not monologues.”
A Quiet Kind Of Thunder is the book I wish I had as I was growing up, struggling to understand why I couldn’t speak in situations where I wanted to. As someone who has suffered with anxiety for as long as she can remember, I’m always nervous about romanticisation but that’s exactly what this book didn’t do. Steffi’s anxiety doesn’t get cured, and certainly not by her falling in love.
Steffi has selective mutism, or at least she used to. It’s quite a difficult condition to define and it’s equally difficult to determine the point at which it is overcome. From the very first page I saw myself reflected in Steffi’s character. The story follows her during her first year at sixth form which made it even more relatable since it was also my defining year, after several failed attempts at the ‘this-is-the-year-i’ll-speak-at-school thing.’
Apart from the actual story itself, there were so many little things I loved like the BSL illustrations on the front and back cover and the little lists at the end of the chapters. I guess it made the book more interactive and fun to read, not that it needed it in the slightest. The author clears up common misconceptions about selective mutism from the very beginning, and by chapter seven I was amazed at how accurately she managed to portray something she hasn’t experienced first-hand.
I’m not usually one for contemporary romance novels but I couldn’t help myself smiling as I read this. From Steffi meeting Rhys for the first time to her accidentally sending him a song she likes because she forgets that he’s deaf. Steffi and Rhys, and how they were able to communicate in more ways than most people and how they still made it work despite their struggles. It was just beautifully written from start to finish.
The only thing I was a little unsure about was Rhys wanting to tell Steffi he likes her for ‘so long.’ It made it feel like an insta-love story because I was certain they hadn’t known each other that long, but overall the novel did span over many months so it’s not as bad compared to others in this genre.
Then we have Steffi’s best friend, Tem, who reminded me of my own, filling in the silence with her words. Everything about Steffi’s world just really mirrored mine. Steffi and Tem’s long-term friendship (because it’s not easy to make friends when you can’t speak so you just make one and cherish them forever), and how Steffi couldn’t stick up for Tem even though she wanted to. Steffi’s unstable relationship with her mum and having to lie to the parents who didn’t believe in her. Most importantly, Steffi’s determination to go to university because she has an academic heart. That had me written all over it, and the fact that she had to reshape her career around her anxiety was extremely relatable because I did exactly the same thing.
That is why this is such an important book. Somewhere out there is a child with selective mutism who feels alone because they’ve never met anyone else who suffers the way they do. And somewhere out there is a child feeling equally alone not even knowing that they suffer from a social anxiety disorder, the simple answer to the complex question they’ve been asked all their life. That child, like myself, may just happen to stumble across an NHS information page about selective mutism and proceed to self-diagnose themselves even though that can sometimes be dangerous. Or that child may pick up a book, this book, and proceed to understand that they are not alone and that using your voice doesn’t always require speaking; you can be a quiet kind of thunder too.
Returning to the opening line of my review, I still wonder what would have happened if I had found out sooner rather than later. If, like Steffi, I had speech therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy and medication to help battle my anxiety, how different would my high school experience have been? No one ever said the words ‘selective mutism’ or ‘anxiety’ to me, and even after I had said them to myself I didn’t fully understand what they meant. But I think it really helped to not just put a label on it but to know I wasn’t the only one, that there were other thunderclouds out there still waiting to strike with their lightning.
Thank you, Sara Barnard, for telling my story even though you don’t know me. I’d give you more stars if I could.