“I want the world, I think. Even if it scares me.”
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a contemporary young adult novel about first love and finding your voice, and is told from the point of view of a sixteen/seventeen year-old girl called Steffi. As a child, Steffi had selective mutism, and now at sixth-form college, she struggles with social anxiety. Whilst she’s comfortable around her best friend Tem, the thought of speaking up in class or talking to another student is enough to make her freeze. But then she’s introduced to Rhys, the new boy at school, who has difficulties with communication for a different reason. Rhys is deaf, and through the medium of British Sign Language (BSL), Steffi finds a new way to express herself, and someone she can talk to. Whilst this book is a romance, the real story is about Steffi learning to overcome her anxiety.
“Here are three separate but similar things: shyness, introversion and social anxiety. You can have one, two or all three of these things simultaneously. A lot of the time people thing they’re all the same thing, but that’s just not true. Extroverts can be shy, introverts can be bold, and a condition like anxiety can strike whatever kind of social animal you are.”
As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I knew I had to buy it, and I’m glad I did, because I loved it. For a novel that doesn’t have a big, perilous plot, it was incredibly absorbing, but the thing I loved about it the most is how relatable I found it.
Social anxiety is different for everyone, and there’s no one way to experience it. But for me, the depiction of social anxiety and shyness in this book rang true. It’s so rare for me to read a book that I feel like I can really see myself in, that there were parts of this book that unexpectedly caused me to shed a tear – and those weren’t even at the sad parts.
Steffi is a delightful character: she’s relatable and real, and she’s also fun, interesting, and lively. Barnard does a great job of making sure Steffi isn’t just a vessel for anxiety: there is so much more to her than that. Her best friend Tem is another lively and interesting character, who really sprang to life out of the book, and who had a relatable story of her own.
“And then it happens. The panic. It’s slow at first, creeping through the cracks in my thoughts until everything starts to feel heavy. It builds; it becomes something physical that clutches at my insides and squeezes out the air and the blood.”
The writing in this book is touching, and the topics are handled with sensitivity and feel well-researched. Barnard manages to capture Steffi’s feelings with such accuracy, and really makes you feel for the characters. In some ways, the book has that slightly “fluffy” feeling of something like Fangirl or Everything, Everything, filled with emotional moments and heartache for the main character, but having said that, this book feels completely unique. There are some beautiful and relatable quotes scattered throughout this book, my favourite being: “I want the world, I think. Even if it scares me.” which I might have to pin on my wall so I never forget it.
For a relatively quick read of a little over 300 pages, this book explores a range of topics, including family, loss, anxiety, friendship, love, and sex, and it handles each one with sensitivity. And I loved that it isn’t just about the romance. While Rhys is a big part of helping Steffi to overcome her anxiety, and even to see herself in a different light, he never feels like he’s solely responsible for the changes we see in Steffi throughout the book. Acceptance and support are invaluable in Steffi’s journey, but at the end of the day, she’s the one pushing herself to overcome her fears.
In terms of its flaws, this book has few. There are moments when the pacing of the story lulls, and it isn’t necessarily the most gripping tale. The romance is sweet, and Rhys is an interesting, likeable character, who gets a big thumbs-up from me for being the first deaf character I’ve encountered in a book (as far as I can remember). The romance isn’t sweep-you-of-your-feet amazing, but it is realistic: it’s complicated, uncertain, awkward, and sweet. It never falls into the trap of being a story about the “perfect” first love, and this was definitely a highlight for me.
This isn’t a particularly plot-driven book, so if you’re looking for something filled with peril, or a rich story, this might not be for you. But it is character-driven, and it does tell a story, one about being brave, and making mistakes, and love.
I’m giving this book 4.5 stars, because it meant a lot to me. I wish I could have read a book like this when I was Steffi’s age, or even younger. It deals with a complicated set of issues, and it does it well, in a way that’s easy to relate to. I’m filing this book under: “books that remind you that you’re not alone”.
“Lose the fear, find my voice. So simple. And, yet, so rare.”
Edit: Originally, rated 5/5, but on reflection/comparison with other recent reads, I felt like this was more of a 4.5 star book. Still brilliant though!