Sara Barnard was another author I saw speak at YA Shot last October, and whilst many know her for her Beautiful, Broken Things (2016), her newest novel, A Quiet Kind of Thunder (2017), lived up to the hype surrounding her name.
Steffi is a quiet girl. She used to be a selective mute, but now she’s trying her hardest to prove to her parents that she can adapt to the world by speaking out a little more. Except that’s already pretty hard as a teenager: throw in first love with a boy who’s deaf, an anxiety disorder, separated families, and a best friend in crisis, and it becomes clear Steffi is in for a testing time.
Barnard’s choice to explore ‘the quiet ones’ – through mute and deaf characters, who use BSL, and therefore silently communicate as opposed to verbally – is so beautifully complex that it never feels like a trick to be unique. In fact, the effort she makes to understand BSL and educate her readers in its workings is truly admirable and introduced a whole new world to me. I especially enjoyed her pointers to YouTube BSL covers of popular songs; you can really see the way it functions as it’s own form of communication. The contrasts Barnard makes between different types of communication – verbal/non-verbal, friend/friend, parent/child, girlfriend/boyfriend – are spot-on and seem to capture teenage life perfectly. Barnard’s nod to teenage anxiety is also a credible move, as she never uses Steffi’s issues for plotting, or as a sole definition of her character.
The relationship between Steffi and Rhys was so natural and uncontrived that it was bliss to read, enhanced by the knowledge that Steffi’s other relationships were equally healthy: despite having two slightly dysfunctional families, she gets on well with both sets of parents, and her friendship with Tem is a testament to teenage loyalty and commitment.
My only qualms whilst reading were the tendencies towards the over-dramatic: the death of Steffi’s step-brother wasn’t given enough page-space to feel relevant, and thus seemed to just provide a tragic element, and the Tem and Karam sub-plot was trite in its girl-committed-to-sex-after-marriage-succumbs-to-special-guy-only-to-be-duped narrative.
Nevertheless, Barnard’s quiet love story is innovative and original, and it speaks to the loud and quiet alike in its appeal to all things human.