“Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life. The condition’s name has always felt ironic to her, because she certainly does not “select” not to speak. In fact, she would give anything to be able to speak as easily and often as everyone around her can. She suffers from crippling anxiety, and uncontrollably, in most situations simply can’t open her mouth to get out the words.
Steffi’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 help him acclimate. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk. As they find ways to communicate, Steffi discovers 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. But as she starts to overcome a lifelong challenge, she’ll soon confront questions about the nature of her own identity and the very essence of what it is to know another person.”
My Thoughts: There are some young adult relationship books which are too saccharine. These are the kind which idealize every aspect of first love and often describe the type of behavior you would scorn in real life. Then there are other stories that get it just right. These are the ones that capture the awkwardness, the doubts and myriad questions, the goofiness, the sheer joy, and the absurdity of it all. These stories are the ones that put a smile on your face and have you looking at your old yearbooks to reminisce about past relationships. Sara Barnard‘s A Quiet Kind of Thunder is one of the good ones.
It is not just Steffi’s and Rhys’ relationship with makes A Quiet Kind of Thunder so good though. If anything, that is icing on the cake. It is Steffi herself that makes the story special. Her honesty about her mental health issues, her frustrations at the arbitrariness and cruelty of anxiety, her desperation to get better and prove that she can live out her dreams – all of this contributes to this special story.
It would be so easy to make Steffi a caricature, a symbol for all teens suffering from anxiety. Instead, Ms. Barnard takes this fragile character and makes her unique. Instead of being a trope, she is her own person. Ms. Barnard takes care to develop her to the point where she stops being a fictional character and becomes real. Everything about her, from her insecurities about her appearance to her severe anxiety to her love of animals creates a character who is more than just words on a screen. In doing so, we are drawn in to her story. We become active in support of her, urging her towards certain decisions and groaning when she makes a poor choice. We are vested in her success, whether that is with Rhys or with overcoming the challenges set in place by her parents and her anxiety, and the story shines as a result.
The other thing to love about A Quiet Kind of Thunder is the honesty with which Steffi explains her anxiety. She does not just cover the clinical definitions of what is occurring in her brain, nor does she focus on how it makes her feel. We get to know the nuances of anxiety, from her selective muteness to panic attacks to general worry. We understand what causes her to be silent and what allows her voice to flow. Most importantly, for any reader who also suffers from anxiety, we learn we are not alone. Steffi’s feelings are your feelings, and her struggles are your struggles. As such, it is the type of novel I want everyone with anxiety to read because those feelings of loneliness can be crippling in their own right.
As for Steffi’s and Rhys’ relationship, Ms. Barnard portrays it just right. She affords it the right amount of happiness and rainbows that all first loves should have, but she also keeps it real. She shows the awkwardness, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I doubts, the compromises required. She explores the importance of communication in all relationships, especially ones that you want to last. She also mentions the need to keep your identity, to be yourself, and remain independent while also part of a couple. It is a fabulous template for any relationship made all the more poignant because it is also that very special first love.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder made me laugh and most definitely made me cry. Most important of all is that it made me smile, a goofy grin that I could not erase while reading. Even now, while thinking about the story, I find myself smiling with fondness because it is such a sweet story but one that has heart and honesty at its core. There is nothing false or saccharine about any of it. When you are feeling low, when the news has you questioning whether there is any good left in the world, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is the perfect reminder that good still exists.