Just a Little Sign Language

A Quiet Kind of ThunderA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All I need is just a little sign language. Show me that you’re mine, baby. And say what you wanna say. —Dylan Gardner

This book was my second contemporary read (in 2017) concerning mental illness, and I am happy to say that I liked it very much. The premise itself was intriguing: a selectively mute girl forming a bond with a deaf boy. One would expect the story to implode with all kinds of infamous tropes (e.g. instalove and romanticized mental illness), but I actually found it to be educational, substantial, and refreshing.

British Sign Language (BSL) played an important role in A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Given the characters communicative impairments, BSL was primarily what they used to talk to each other. With that in mind, I really enjoyed the dialogues between Steffi and Rhys. The author enriched their conversations by helpfully explaining how to sign particular words and phrases, and I applauded her for doing so. It made me think about my father back home, who is (or used to be) adept at American Sign Language. I fondly remembered the days he taught me how to finger spell each letter of the alphabet. xD In other words, I liked this aspect of the novel because it rekindled my childlike interest in silent speech.

Another strength of this novel was its meaningful content. Interestingly, it explored the dichotomy of the “Speaking World” and the “Non-speaking World.” To simply put it, I enjoyed how the author debunked the stereotypes “normal” people have against those who are deaf or mute. I was sad whenever Steffi and Rhys felt alienated from others, including their own loved ones. Still, it was inspiring how they managed to find their own voice in spite of the ignorant and insensitive people around them.

I would have given this book five stars if I wasn’t perturbed by the values of the characters, especially their attitude towards sex. I was particularly offended by Steffi’s subtle mockery of chastity. I do not condemn fictional characters who are non-conservative, but it’s a different matter when they attack my own beliefs. This criticism is clearly subjective, but my conscience would bother me endlessly if I keep it to myself.

In the end, A Quiet Kind of Thunder lived up to its title. It’s characters were indeed quiet, yet the message of their story resonated in my mind like thunder: do not look down on those who are deaf or mute, because their condition does not prevent them from achieving a happy and purposeful life.

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