Continuing on my 2017 trend of reading more YA contemporary novels than I ever have before in my life, I chose to read A Quiet Sort of Thunder, hoping to find a blend between sweet romance and something more substantial. This book definitely delivers. Not only does Thunder have wonderful characters and relationships at its centre, but it also brilliantly represents and brings attention to the experiences of people who find it difficult to communicate or communicate in different ways. Although I found that the story lagged at times, I definitely learned a lot reading this novel and it made me want to keep learning.
Steffi Brons has selective mutism and severe anxiety, and has done for most of her life. She can only speak around certain persons close to her, and is mostly invisible to those around her. But when she meets Rhys, who is deaf, she finds that communicating with him is easier than with anyone else. With BSL, it doesn’t matter if Steffi doesn’t speak, but even without any pressure to speak, Steffi is finding her voice, and the confidence to use it.
Sara Barnard’s representation of Steffi’s anxieties and selective mutism were both interesting and moving. As someone who has experienced severe shyness and anxiety, I could relate to Steffi’s fears and concerns about interacting with people in public. While I had heard of selective mutism, I had never seen it explored in so much detail. You can really tell that Sara did in-depth research when writing this novel, and I felt like her writing really helps you to get into Steffi’s head. There were some really moving passages that broke my heart, and I was rooting for Steffi the whole way through as she continued on her journey to confidence in herself. I also loved that, despite the main characters rarely speaking out loud, this didn’t hinder the story at all. They sign to each other and their ‘speech’ is told in bold rather than quotation marks, and there was greater focus on facial expressions and body language than in many other novels, which I really enjoyed. I also loved the BSL diagrams, in both the inside covers of the book, the chapter beginnings, and littered throughout the text.
My main concern about this novel was that it would fall into the cliche of a new love interest ‘healing’ the main character’s ‘ailment’. I was worried that Rhys would be the reason for Steffi finding her voice, and I would have hated that. In fact, there are several reasons for Steffi becoming more confident. She is taking new medication, which she is keeping a secret, she is seeing a therapist, and she also has great, supportive, people around her. I loved that Sara found a subtle balance between these things, meaning that there isn’t one single cure for Steffi, but rather a combination of factors that help her to push herself to her limits. Neither one works without the others, they all help her to take steps forward, and I really loved the important role that not only Rhys, but her friend Tem and her family play in helping her. One of my favourite moments was when Steffi, in an emergency, has to find help in a place that she has never been before. She not only deals with a panic attack, but then several of her fears, from talking to strangers to making phone calls, all while thinking that she is failing for being nervous. Sara does a really good job at helping you to get into Steffi’s state of mind and understanding her point of view, leading to a really insightful reading experience.
At times I did feel like the novel didn’t develop much in plot outside of the central relationship between Rhys and Steffi, but the novel was well written and interesting enough to not make this a huge deal. It wasn’t that Steffi didn’t have any goals in the novel, because she did – being able to speak – but I would have liked for there to have been a more specific goal. Perhaps a particular challenge or a goal that she was focused on throughout the novel. There is her desire to go to university, but this is quite vague and in the background of the novel, being mentioned a few times but not central to her thoughts. However, even without this, we do still get to see Steffi’s development and journey throughout the novel and see how she copes in different difficult situations. The fact that Sara’s writing helps you to relate to the character so much means that you can deal with the novel not being more plot-driven, and the fact that I cared for the character meant that I didn’t mind just reading her thoughts.
Overall, this book was incredibly well written, insightful and respectful. The characters are relatable and their experiences are moving. It is filled with important insights into anxiety, deafness, and other difficulties that people may have in communicating and makes you much more aware of the challenges that people may face.This is a great balance between stories based on Steffi’s relationships, whether with Rhys, her best friend Tem, or her family members, and the challenges that she faces outside of those relationships.