The Premise: Steffi is elective mute. Rhys is deaf. The headmaster at their school pairs them up, assuming their shared communication problems will help them to bond and, in a rare display of successful fictional teacher interference, he’s right: Steffi and Rhys’ relationship quickly develops into something Steffi never expected. But does their relationship just face too many obstacles?
Thoughts: since the release of Barnard’s debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things, I’ve felt like the black sheep of book blogging; while everyone else in the world seems to have adored the book, I didn’t like it. This made me feel particularly awkward when attending a book event and meeting Sara Barnard who, by the way, is lovely.
So I’m really pleased to have enjoyed her second novel far, far more. Where Beautiful Broken Things‘ narrator was annoyingly non-descript, Steffi is a fully drawn and dynamic character; it’s also abundantly clear that Barnard has thoroughly researched Steffi’s problems, and so this is also a really enlightening read, particularly in its depiction of anxiety. The way in which Steffi’s issues are presented, and the varying types of support (or lack thereof) that she receives from her family and friends seemed to cover the full range of responses.
While romance is certainly an important part of the plot, it’s kind of organic and sweet, developing slowly (like the quiet thunder of the title) until it seems like the natural thing to happen. It’s not unduly dramatic, although the complication late on did draw more parallels with the accident-based denouement of Barnard’s previous book. I liked Steffi and Rhys; they were the sort of couple you can root for, without finding them overly nauseating. I liked how Barnard presented some of the specific pitfalls of teen relationships too; it seemed far more realistic than some of the more rose-petals-and-burning-candles portrayals seen elsewhere in YA.
I think Barnard is particularly good at showing the relationships between teens and their parents. As a parent (although to an admittedly quite stroppy four year old rather than an actual adolescent), I found myself empathising with Caddy’s parents in Beautiful Broken Things when they banned her from seeing bad influence Suzanne, and I felt similarly here, with Steffi’s parents and step-parents all expressing their own concerns about her university plans and burgeoning relationship. The best YA, like a Pixar film, will appeal to both teen and adult readers on different levels, and A Quiet Kind of Thunder really does that, I think.
Also, it has a beautiful cover. Can we just take a moment to think about that?
In Conclusion: I’m glad I picked up A Quiet Kind of Thunder; it’s touching and sweet, but also very realistic and quite brutal at times. Very much like being a teenager, then. I recommend it.