by Sara Barnard
Steffi suffers from anxiety, often stricken by panic attacks, fear of strangers, public places, speaking on the telephone- and talking out loud. She\’s been \”selectively mute\” for so long she learned a bit of sign language (and \”selective\” doesn\’t mean she can choose when to talk or not- it seems to freeze her up without reason). Steffi has one best friend, Tem, who has known her since they were little and doesn\’t at all mind speaking up for her. Then a new boy arrives at school, Rhys. He\’s deaf. They become friends, as Steffi can commiunicate a bit in sign language, and Rhys doesn\’t at all mind her silence, or judge her for it. As her friendship with Rhys blossoms into something more, Steffi slowly starts to find her voice again- not just because of growing confidence in herself (helped, in part, by ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy) but also due to taking a new medication. Which she doesn\’t tell her friends about. So much happens. Tem and Steffi drift apart, as Steffi and Rhys grow closer. Steffi meets Rhys\’ deaf friends, and realizes how awkward her sign language use has actually been, sees a whole new side of her friend, recognizes she didn\’t really know what it was like to be deaf; their similarities are not always the same as understanding. Near the end of the story, Steffi and Rhys, giddy with their newfound love, plan a secret getaway together, but it doesn\’t go smoothly and Steffi is faced with challenges she\’s always shied away from. She has to realize a few things about herself. She has to be honest with Tem, and her parents, on her return. She has to reconsider her realationship with Rhys, even as it becomes most intimate- is her growing ability to speak and navigate normal social situations, drawing her away from Rhys?
This story had more depth than I expected. The love story aspect of it really is very sweet. Yeah, there\’s a sex scene near the end, and although I don\’t read a lot of love stories (teen or otherwise) I have to say I though it pretty darn realistic. Young, awkward, fumbling, tender love. Not what you might hope for (from the girl\’s viewpoint at least) but then moving on graciously. It was really nice to see Steffi grow as a character, to see how much Rhys cared for her, even though they had some misunderstandings and frustrations. The depiction of anxiety is different from the few accounts I\’ve read before, but I\’m sure it\’s different for everyone, so I appreciated seeing another aspect of what living with that can be like. I felt like the author wrote it with a lot of compassion and straightforwardness, as well.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 390 pages, 2018