Review of A Quiet Kind Of Thunder, Sara Barnard

I was sent a proof copy to read and review by Macmillan. This, in no way, influences my views.

Steffi is a new 6th form student with Selective Mutism.  She has just been separated from her closest friend, Tem, who is now attending a different college. Steffi is instructed by the Headteacher to assist new student, Rhys, who is deaf, as she has rudimentary knowledge of BSL (British Sign Language). Together they are able to communicate and their natural friendship eventually develops into love. It’s an original and sensitive telling of teenage relationships.

Though A Quiet Kind Of Thunder is not the type of book I would typically read, I was intrigued about the book as I have been friends with a girl with Selective Mutism for almost a decade.   It was fascinating to read an interpretation of the day to day life of a teenager living with severe anxiety. I also thought it was vital that Selective Mutism was not depicted as a choice by the individual, or a character quirk as many often misunderstand, but as a manifestation of crippling social anxiety.

The anxiety is written about in a poignant and yet sometimes humorous way, such as the list or ‘snapshot of an anxious brain’. But I was also moved to read about how a seemingly simple task like buying milk or make-up could be considered a personal triumph.

Steffi is prescribed medication to help her. The medication is discussed in a frank way and we know that it isn’t going to be a miracle cure, just another mechanism to help Steffi function in society. Anxiety is a huge issue with teenagers these days and anything that helps us all see ourselves in fiction can only be a positive.

It is important to see how similar Steffi and Rhys’ relationship is to other teens, just with the addition of BSL. On the topic of BSL, I find the font used to portray their signing a very clever way to convey non-verbal communication.

One thing I did struggle with was the friendship between Tem and Steffi. From experience, I am not convinced that a girl like Steffi would be so friendly with a sport loving girl like Tem. I haven’t read Beautiful Broken things, but Sara Barnard seems to be a confident writer about female friendship groups and the stresses that can come out of them.  I also felt uncomfortable with the depiction of Steffi’s mum. The family I know has supportive parents, but I suppose we all react to situations differently and Steffi’s mum is no different. She is also flawed, and wants reasons and answers. She really only wants what is best for Steffi. It seems to me, the main characters all have fears and hopes, pretty much like real life experiences.

With that in mind, and the fact that anxiety and Selective Mutism are tackled so sensitively, I would recommend this book, especially to my friendship group, where we have our own experiences of understanding and working with the condition. Thank you, Sara, for bringing the condition to a wider audience in such a brilliant way.