It’s always unexpected to find a book that speaks to you on a very personal level, but that is how I felt while reading A Quiet Kind of Thunder, by Sara Barnard. And, although it is a Young Adult novel that explores much of the angst all teens experience, it is so much more.
Our narrator is Steffi Brons, age sixteen. Steffi has crippling social anxiety. Crippling to the point that she is a selective mute, which makes her an interesting choice as narrator. Steffi taught me a lot. For one thing, the word “selective” does not mean that the person selects when they do or don’t talk. On the contrary, she wants to talk, especially when the alternative is getting stared at and bullied. It’s her anxiety level that chooses when she speaks. Anxiety is not rational, but she’s usually OK with her family, best friend, and boss. But parties? Shops? And, Heaven forbid, school? Big N-O.
Steffi is fortunate to have some anchors in her life. Her dad is patient and kind. Her friend, Tem (September,) is her advocate and cheerleader. Her mom? Not so much. Speaking as someone who has anxiety (to a much lesser degree but still very real,) little victories are to be celebrated and pushing usually has the opposite effect. “C’mon, Steffi…just try harder…” Well meaning but definitely not helpful.
As a child, Steffi’s uncle suggested that she learn BSL (British Sign Language) as a way to compensate for those times when communication was necessary but speech was not forthcoming. This skill makes her the prime candidate to be paired up with Rhys Gold, a new student who is deaf. Rhys is friendly, outgoing, and fairly adorable.
Yes, you can guess correctly that Steffi and Rhys go from classmates to friends to more. But that does not make the story predictable. At the heart of everything is communication, its variations, its inclusiveness, and its means as a tool to validate people. Whether it’s speaking, signing, gesturing, writing, etc.–it connects us with others. And, in some cases, it isolates. The story is also about Steffi’s growth, her wavering confidence, the kind of support she gets, and its importance.
I loved this book. It has the language and sexual experimentation that you would expect from a contemporary Young Adult novel about teenagers and first love, but the explanation of anxiety is SO on point. I rooted for these two and appreciated the fact that there was no ridiculous drama, just the normal ups/downs/questions that we have at that age. A wonderful discovery that touched my heart.