Details & Summary:
Having read the summary, I expected a cute, fluffy YA romance. And while the romance is definitely cute and fluffy, Sarah Barnard also surprised me with how much care and attention to detail she put into her main characters and the story itself.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder tells the story of Steffi, who’s a selective mute and suffers from an anxiety disorder, and Rhys, who’s deaf.
“Lots of people are shy. Shy is normal. A bit of anxiety is normal. Throw the two together, add some brain-signal error – a NO ENTRY sign on the neural highway from my brain to my mouth perhaps, though no one really knows – and you have me.”
They’re thrown together on the first day of sixth form because Steffi knows BSL (British Sign Language) and their instant connection soon blossoms into a strong friendship and later a romantic relationship.
I’m going to go over the romance aspect fairly quickly since (in my opinion) the book is about much more than a teenage romance, which I’ll discuss below. As said before, Steffi and Rhys’s romance is cute and adorable. Tem, Steffi’s best friends, sums it up perfectly.
‘God, you guys are sickening,’ Tem says, following. ‘I’m getting diabetes just looking at you.’
I read this book mostly on the train and I can’t tell you how many times I smiled (and almost squealed) at how cute they were being. I particularly enjoyed their jackbytes conversations (which to them is the equivalent of talking over the phone). Here’s a snippet:
stefstef: are you doing anything next saturday?
rhysespieces: i hope so
stefstef: oh, ok. Have you already made plans or something?
rhysespieces: what? no, i mean i hope that i’ll be doing something with you
rhysespieces: like seeing you, not DOING something
rhysespieces: oh fuck
rhysespieces: i am so much smoother in my head
stefstef: i hope for your sake that’s true
But the romance between Steffi and Rhys isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Both characters have individual problems and problems they face as a couple. Steffi is a selective mute and suffers from anxiety and Rhys is deaf so communication is both a blessing and a curse. It’s often described that they live in their own world where they can communicate freely but other times they don’t communicate, which causes problems.
Steffi “opens up” throughout the novel – speaking much more frequently – but I like how her development isn’t just because she’s with Rhys. Love doesn’t cure mental illness and it’s great to see that reflected in the book. It’s true to life, which is very important for any mental illness in YA fiction.
And while on the subject, I’m very impressed by the level of care and detail that went into the book. I obviously can’t speak for the deaf community (or for people who suffer from anxiety) but it seems to me that those subjects are treated respectfully.
I learnt a lot from this book, not just a few BSL signs (the description and visualisations of the signs are a great addition) but also the assumptions that “normal” people make and their well-meaning but condescending behaviour, i.e. deaf people can’t talk, speaking loudly when talking to deaf people, anxiety or any other mental illness must have a cause and a solution, etc.
And people really like explanations. They like explanations and recovery stories. They like watching House and knowing a solution is coming. They like to hear that people get uncomplicatedly better.
Ultimately, this book made me think and consider the lives of people who’re not like me, which is as much as you could hope for as an author.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a book about two teenagers who are on the edge of society and are trying to find out where they belong. Aside from being a diverse book, it also features a strong and realistic friendship between two girls and realistic family bonds. Though last quarter of the book felt rushed, Barnard’s writing style is enjoyable and easy to read, and the book ultimately succeeds in what it set out to do.
People who want to see a realistic portrayal of mental illness and disability and don’t mind a flufffy, cute romantic relationship.