A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard (proof) - 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. From Goodreads.
When I heard that A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard featured protagonist who had selective mutism and a love interest who was deaf, I was so eager to read it, though slightly nervous. I didn't enjoy Barnard's first novel, Beautiful Broken Things, as much as I would have liked, simply because I wasn't a fan of the narrator. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, and was worried that maybe I wouldn't love A Quiet Kind of Thunder, too. But I didn't need to worry - this book is incredible!
This book is so, so beautiful! I haven't really enjoyed reading for the sake of reading in a long time - I've been reading specifically to promote diverse books, not just to enjoy a story. But with A Quiet Kind of Thunder, I was picking it up whenever I could because I simply loved the story and the characters. The romance itself is the cutest; Steffi and Rhys are so lovely together, and for the most part it's light and happy! They were just so adorable, and oh my god, I just couldn't get enough of their romance!
But this isn't a completely light story. Steffi has anxiety - multiple anxiety diagnoses, in fact - and has for most of her life. As well as having panic attacks, Steffi has selective mutism. This book is brilliant because it helped me understand what selective mutism is. I thought, because it's selective, a person who has selective mutism is choosing not to talk. Not in a sullen, sulky stubborn way, but that a person would have experienced something terrible, and their way of coping was just not to speak at all - I've read a couple of books with mute characters - Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton - and I think they are where I got this impression from, but the difference is (unless I am completely wrong, in which case do please correct me) they were choosing for themselves not to speak, where Steffi has no choice. Selective mutism is part of anxiety, and sometimes Steffi simply cannot speak - she tries, but nothing comes out, her mind putting a block on it. It was interesting to see anxiety manifest this way; as someone with anxiety, it was wonderful to see such fantastic representation of anxiety, how it affects Steffi and how her panic attacks were described were just spot on, but my anxiety has never led to selective mutism, and, as I said, I didn't know it was part of the mental illness.
It was so upsetting when she would lose her voice and be unable to say what she wanted, but it was so good to see her getting better. There are so many changes for Steffi this year; she's just starting sixth form, her best friend has gone to a different college, so she doesn't have Tem as a buffer between her and everyone else like she used to, and now she's become friends with Rhys after the head of sixth form asks her to help him out as he's deaf and she knows some basic British Sign Language (BSL), and she's also started using medication. A combination of all these things slowly sees her feeling a little more comfortable in different situations using her own voice. Because she can speak to Tem, she can speak to her family, but at school? Nope. But things slowly change as the story progresses, and it's so wonderful to see.
I loved how Rhys' deafness was represented, as well. A Quiet Kind of Thunder is told entirely from Steffi's perspective, but because of her selective mutism, she knows a little about being heard and listened to when you have difficulty communicating, so in some ways, as well as knowing some BSL, she was the perfect person to introduce to Rhys. But at the same time, she's not deaf, and there are some things she simply doesn't get. Through talking with sign with Rhys on a regular basis, she learns more BSL and becomes more confident, but it's not until she meets Rhy's deaf friends that she realises just how slow she is - and how much Rhys slows down so she can read what he's saying. He also asks her why, when she's around his family, who sign and speak at the same time (as Rhys is the only deaf person in the family) to include Rhys in the group conversation, Steffi does the same, but doesn't when they're both among her friends. Rhys can lip read pretty well, but it's still difficult, especially if they're not facing him or it's dark. Rhys isn't having a go at Steffi at this point, he's just asking why. Part of me wishes A Quiet Kind of Thunder was told from Rhys perspective as well, so we could see just how difficult it can be, but I loved what we do learn.
I'm going to wrap up my review soon, but there are a few things I do want to touch on before I end this. We already know, with Steffi having anxiety and selective mutism and Rhys being deaf, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a diverse book, but Rhys is also biracial, being half-white and half-Guyanese, and Tem, Steffi's best friend, is Somalian. The sex scenes in this book, of which there are a couple, are fantastic! They are realistic; awkward and nerve-wracking and messy, and not necessarily amazing but still good, and oooh, they were just so well written! There are hints of feminism and challenging gender roles with children as well, which I just loved!
This book is just pretty much perfect! Neither Steffi nor Rhys are perfect though, they both make mistakes, and ironically, sometimes they have communication problems. They both do something ridiculous at one point where I was thinking, "What the hell are you doing?!", but it was still true to the characters and the story, despite how much I was disbelieving at their recklessness.
A Quiet King of Thunder is a beautiful story that I completely fell in love with, and I didn't want it to end. Do yourself a favour and read this gorgeous book!
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the proof.
Published: 12th January 2017
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Sara Barnard's Website