‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ by Sara Barnard

★★★★★/5 stars

Published by Macmillan!

‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ is Sara Barnard’s second YA novel and told by Steffi, a selective mute who has struggled to find her words for the vast majority of her life. On her first day of sixth form, she is buddied up with Rhys. Rhys is new and just so happens to be deaf, leaving Steffi as one of the few people in her school able to carry a conversation with him through her basic knowledge of British Sign Language. It also means Rhys is the one person in her school she doesn’t have to physically talk to to communicate. And it’s from there that their relationship develops and Steffi slowly but surely finds the courage to speak and come a little out of her shell.

After reading ‘Beautiful Broken Things‘, I was very excited about Sara Barnard’s future writing endeavours. The complexity of female friendships that she managed to portray in ‘Broken Things’ was simply wonderful and not often seen in fiction, generally overshadowed by more romantic-themed plot lines. The diversity found in ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ was on a similarly epic level with not only an array of POC characters, but also the depiction of mental health and disability, too. I knew I was right, then, to be excited about Sara, because what has become increasingly clear to me is that she cares deeply about representation. And not only token diverse characters but actual fully-fledged, accurately represented, three dimensional individuals and their varying experiences in society as someone who is deaf, or as someone with black skin and how that differs to those at a more privileged standpoint.

Her dedication to research is so clear in ‘AQKOT’ with a very attentive and realistic narrative of Steffi’s social anxiety and her struggles with battling it as a selective mute. What’s more, the way in which she smoothly describes Steffi and Rhys’ conversations through the use of BSL is enchanting to follow and, to a degree, educational in beginning to grasp basic sign language. Sara has gone above and beyond to make sure she has depicted the deaf community correctly, which is increasingly important. It’s a huge, daunting challenge, but also one of importance to discuss minorities in fiction and depict a multi-cultural, multi-everything society, but authors have to be vigilant in the way that they represent them, especially if they are not directly writing about something they may personally identify as and/or have experienced. Sara Barnard has more than accomplished diversity just by her evident attention to detail and dedication to well carried out research.

And, just for the record, because I need to get this out before I implode, even though I have 100 more things that need saying about this book. Before all that… Point blank: I loved this book. Plain and simple. It’s probably my favourite book of 2017 and the year isn’t even quite upon us yet, or all the books I’m inevitably going to read. But I can say with confidence it’ll be up there and that it’s going to take a lot for a book to knock it off the top spot. Once again, Sara has created such a brilliant and endearing character in Steffi who’s internal monologue is warm and chatty and completely and utterly relatable. And Rhys! Oh boy, oh boy. Rhys. What a beautiful fella. I loved how happy he was, because too often disabled characters seem to be defined by the one thing that hinders them, a black cloud cast over their lives. But Rhys has so much going for him; he’s passionate and driven and has a supportive family and group of friends that get him and believe in him. And I just… could gush forever about these two characters as separate entities.

Because, that’s another thing: they’re powerful and self-motivated which absolutely shone through for me. Sara Barnard took the concept of ‘boy fixes girl’ and obliterated it. It was an idea that both halves toyed with, but the notion never, at any point, came to fruition. Rhys felt that he needed to look after and protect Steffi and Steffi equally battled with whether she wanted to be with Rhys, or even liked him, for the right reasons. Steffi’s family even confessed they were afraid she would use her new boyfriend as a crutch and regress into her voiceless self rather than grow. But the two — spoiler alert — only grew and learned together, ultimately overcoming some of their initial issues.

Their relationship was completely and utterly beautiful. My heart was in a constant state of clenching and unclenching at all the utter cuteness. Also, like, seriously stomach-flip-inducing writing right here, thanks Sara. And whilst, yes, Rhys and Steffi were absolutely heart eyes, the portrayal of their relationship was oh so raw and real and not at all glossed over. I’ve never been so pleased (weirdly) to see the exploration of first sexual experiences in vivid detail. The first time Rhys and Steffi have sex, it’s just as awkward as the real deal generally is and, you know, not exactly good for the girl. Everyone’s first time is different and whilst some have it good, the general consensus is it’s a little alien and uncomfortable and we got to really, really see that in ‘AQKOT’, which I applaud Sara for. A lot of books out there do add to the pressure and naive notion that first times are like exploding fireworks, but, for the most part, that’s not really the case. The sex scene in in ‘AQKOT’ was a frank and detailed depiction, which I also think was just uh-mazing. We’re getting to a point where vague sex scenes in YA are a thing of the past. Young people are out there doing it and it’s unhelpful not to have an honest narrative of what navigating first times can be like. Also… the handjob scene.

Honestly. Sara Barnard is a blessing to us all.

Favourite lines:

“I love kissing you. You taste like stars. xxx”

“Like thunder […] It’s the bit after the jolt. You know how you feel thunder? Like that low rumbling, deep in your stomach and your chest? So I get the little jolts, like when we’re kissing, but then for a while after, while I’m with him, I get that happy, lasting kind of feeling. Like thunder.”

“I don’t see why the state of your hymen has anything to do with how special it will be.”

Thank you to My Kinda Book for sending a review copy!*

‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ will be published in January 2017

Currently listening to #2

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