‘Love isn’t always a lightning strike. Sometimes it’s the rumbling roll of thunder…’
Sara Barnard has been writing since a young age and loves everything to do with books and people who love books. Her dad made sure she had plenty to read and introduced her to second-hand bookshops. Barnard’s first novel, Beautiful Broken Things, proved very popular and so far, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is proving the same.
I cannot remember the first time I actually heard about this book. I had heard of Beautiful Broken Things from YouTuber, Zoella, and had seen it many times since creating my Instagram account for my blog. I remember seeing that a book-group called The Banging Book Club (made up of Lucy Moon, Hannah Witton and Leena Norms) were due to be reading A Quiet Kind of Thunder in 2017, but I may have heard of the book before then. Either way, I read the description on Goodreads and was immediately keen to read it. I would like to add now that there are a lot of YA books on my to be read pile and I love them, there are so many great ones out there right now and I would highly advocate trying some.
The basic plot of this novel is like many YA reads. It centres around Steffi who has just started 6th form whilst her best friend, Tem, has gone to college. On the first day, Steffi is introduced to Rhys and during the novel their relationship develops into a romance, as you might expect. The characters in the novel are dealing with many things that young people nowadays cope with: school, friendships, family, relationships etc. I think it is so great that YA novels address these things because it is a great way to support young people and demonstrate what it is that they go through and potential ways to deal with it. However, the twist with this novel is that Steffi suffers from anxiety and Rhys is deaf. A lot of young people today have something extra like this to cope with so it is a great choice by Barnard to address these issues and give young people the chance to think about them and what it is like to live with something like this.
The novel is narrated in the first person by Steffi. As she is the central character this makes the most sense. Additionally, as she suffers from anxiety I think that being able to hear her thoughts and the events from her perspective gives the reader more of an insight into the mind of someone with anxiety.
‘But my name is Steffi Brons and I don’t speak, let alone yell.’
When we first meet Steffi as she begins 6th form, her diagnoses have already begun to change from what they first were when she was a child. Her original diagnosis was Selective mutism, Anxiety disorder and Situational anxiety. When we meet her this has become Generalised anxiety disorder, Social anxiety, Panic disorder and Glossophobia (fear of public speaking). She has decided to set herself a goal of improving her anxiety over her first year in 6th form because she wants to show her parents (who are divorced and have both re-married) that she is capable of going to university. Until this point, at school Steffi has relied on her Tem, but now she is alone and needs to cope by herself. I believe that a good character should always learn and progress throughout a novel and I think Steffi does that. I like that Barnard keeps the novel on more of a real level and it is not like something happens and miraculously Steffi no longer has anxiety. Young people want a book that remains positive but is not unrealistic and I think this novel fulfils that.
‘Extroverts can be shy, introverts can be bold, and a condition like anxiety can strike whatever kind of social animal you are.’
I want to talk here a little about anxiety because it is a big part of the book and it is something that I already knew a lot about before reading this book. Above I listed Steffi’s diagnoses which sound pretty scary and like quite a lot of conditions, but it is actually very common to suffer with more than one form of anxiety, partly because you may only fit into a small portion of each category. No two people with anxiety will have had exactly the same experiences or suffer in the same ways and it is important to remember that anxiety can manifest differently in different people. Steffi is an example of some of the things that could affect someone with anxiety and I think that Barnard portrays anxiety really well overall. It is also important to recognise that anxiety can be a good thing, it is something that we need when we are in real danger, it is just that some people become overly anxious about things that they should not be so anxious about today.
The character of Rhys really interested me. I have always been aware of being unable to hear, of course, but I had not necessarily put a lot of thought into how someone who is deaf would navigate daily life. Rhys can speak using BSL (British Sign Language), he can lip-read, and he can actually speak. Naturally BSL is easier for him and he says he has to concentrate hard to read lips but obviously not everyone can speak BSL so he has to be able to communicate with them. Rhys also has friends who are deaf and he talks about the differences for him between being with his friends in the ‘deaf world’ and with everyone else in the ‘speaking world’. He does not want to become isolated and moving from his previous school where a lot of people have different difficulties to the 6th form where Steffi is means that he is learning more about how to navigate the ‘speaking world’. Through Rhys I learned a lot about people who are deaf and what they are perfectly capable of. I should also explain here that Barnard uses bold type to demonstrate that someone is speaking in BSL.
Whilst Steffi helps the reader to understand anxiety, Rhys helps us to understand what it is like to be deaf. As we do not necessarily often encounter someone who is deaf we are not likely to know how exactly to communicate with them. As Rhys can lip-read people are able to speak to him, but in the novel they do not always think about the fact that it would be polite to talk slower to give Rhys a chance, and that they have to face him when they speak or he will not be able to see their mouth. These are things that seem slightly obvious but we are so used to just talking away that I’m sure many people simply get caught up and forget. One of the things that I like most about this book is the introduction it provides to BSL. I have been able to do the alphabet for years and have sometimes thought it would be good to learn more. This book has definitely encouraged me to think about learning BSL properly because I think the idea of a language spoken with your hands and facial expressions is really interesting, plus you never know when it might be a useful skill to have. The inside covers have diagrams of the BSL alphabet and numbers, each chapter shows how to do the number, and there is a page with some basic BSL words. This is such a good way to spread some basic sign language and to encourage more people to learn some. After reading this novel, I do not think I will ever think a deaf person incapable of anything other than hearing because why should that limit them.
As I was reading the novel, I noticed that communication seems to be a key theme. Steffi’s anxiety is so severe that she cannot often speak, except to those who are close to her. Being deaf, Rhys is unable to hear others and although he can speak using BSL, that does not help with most people. Therefore, he must communicate by reading lips and then speaking himself. I say that he ‘must’ communicate because communication is key for people and so when someone is unable to communicate in the ‘normal’ way, it can be seen to cause problems. This book really showed me how important communication is in our lives and how people always seem to find some method of communicating. Even when Steffi and Rhys first meet and using words is not going to work and Steffi knows only basic BSL, the two communicate using written notes. I think it is amazing how people always find a way, sometimes even the smallest facial expression or gesture can convey so many words.
The novel also looks at the issues of grief and depression which are also big things affecting young people today. All I can really say is that I think Barnard portrays all of these things really well and gives a relatable and realistic idea of each.
Overall, I really liked the relationship between Steffi and Rhys and often found them to be really cute, especially during the scene at the Halloween party. I like that their relationship is not an immediate, fast moving one, like a lightning strike. The two are brought together by the fact that Steffi knows some BSL and Rhys is deaf. Due to this they kind of stick together and become friends and then the relationship progresses further as they get to know one another which is described as a roll of thunder because their relationship grows gradually but is quite deep. This is Steffi’s first relationship and coupling that with her anxiety means she does sometimes worry about things, but I think hearing her thoughts is good and shows young people that most people have these sorts of worries in their first relationship, or even in any relationship. Some of Steffi’s thoughts did make me smile or laugh and I found her so relatable. Also, Steffi is not alone in her worries. Rhys has worries too, especially about how a relationship with someone who can hear will work. He seems to feel that because he cannot hear, he is less able to look after Steffi like he wants to. I found this really interesting to think about as Rhys seems to think being deaf changes his ability to fulfil the ‘male role’ of their relationship because he has to rely on Steffi from time to time. On the subject of their relationship, I would like to add that the back of the book says ‘For older readers’. This is not due to difficulty but rather due to language used and sex references and I would advise this book for around age 15 and up, maybe 14.
I have already mentioned Steffi’s friend, Tem, a couple of times, but I would like to talk a little more about their friendship. I loved that they were so open and honest with each other and seemed to be able to talk to one another about any topic without any judgement. There was a particular scene I liked where the two talk about virginity. Tem has decided that she wants to wait until she is married before she has sex, which is fine, but when she falls for a boy called Karam it seems like this idea may be threatened. She has fallen for Karam with what is described as a kind of strike of lightning, an immediate attraction. Steffi talks to Tem in one scene and tells her that she is not saving her virginity for her husband at all, but rather for herself, for when she is ready to have sex. I loved this message and I think it is a really important topic for a YA novel.
The ending of the novel is really good and fits perfectly. The characters encountered difficulties and progressed. Thinking about how the rest of the novel remains realistic and avoids the whole fairy-tale story and romance, the ending was just right. When I read novels, especially YA, I sometimes feel that despite the rest of the book the end suddenly becomes all perfect. Barnard avoids this by making sure she remains aware that the characters are still young and may yet face more problems in their lives. I like that the ending left this open but was still satisfactory.
I would definitely recommend this book, but as I said above, for about the age of 15 upwards due to content. I think that so many important issues are portrayed and portrayed really well. I love that YA novels make you think about issues and about yourself and what others may go through. If you have not already tried YA novels then I would say you should give one a go, and this one is a pretty great one to try. For me the addition of BSL just made it because exploring the daily life of someone who is deaf was really interesting and I encourage you to try learning a little BSL yourself.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard, published in 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books, RRP £7.99, ISBN 978-1-5098-1098-7