I loved this adorable story about Steffi and Rhys, filled with so much damp-eye inducing kindness, which can be so hard to come-by (although I hear a rumour that kindness is all set to be the next big publishing trend).
Meekness is my camouflage; silence is my force field.
Steffi suffers from anxiety which results in selective mutism, meaning she doesn’t speak except in situations she feels comfortable doing so. She is silent at school but talks to her family and best friend. She wants to go to university and her family want to see that she’ll be able to cope. She must try talking more.
It’s the start of senior year and Rhys is one of the new kids. Steffi is baffled to why the headteacher thinks she should be personally introduced but soon it becomes clear that he is deaf and she knows basic BSL (British Sign Language). Turns out that Steffi is much more comfortable talking with her hands and their friendship quickly blossoms.
The thing with having limited BSL skills is that it forces you to condense complex emotions into their simplest form in order to communicate them.
I loved her friendship with Tem and her relationship with her parents. They are separated and her dad is so lovely. Her mum is devil’s advocate, some might she her as the bad guy, but both of them have Steffi’s welfare at heart. Everyone in this book is so accommodating, it’s really nice to see a book about anxiety that doesn’t make you feel anxious yourself.
I’m not sure selective mutism was a term when I was at school but I relate a lot to Steffi’s experience. I was just labelled one of those quiet kids. I could talk to teachers, especially if it was a subject I liked, but I really struggled with talking to classmates (other than my best friend, just like Steffi). Away from the school environment, things got easier but I still sometimes have to psyche myself up for talking to strangers, especially on the phone. The internet was a revelation to me, because sometimes a different form of communication can be liberating.
It’s hard to say if it does a good job explaining that kind of anxiety to someone who has never felt it, but it does feel spot on from my point of view. I can imagine for some people it’s hard to get your head round the idea that words just don’t come out because you’re too busy worrying about the consequences.
I found there was a bit too much exposition around both Steffi’s muteness and Rhys’ deafness. It wanted to explain a lot, which on one hand is noble, but it could have been shown a bit more through the story. It does highlight some of the things you can do around deaf people to make them feel more included, things hearing people take for granted.
Little victories are everything in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in your head.
I was recommended this book for Diversity Bingo and so I’m going to use it for a square even though the protagonist isn’t deaf. Rhys is still a major character, if not the main one, and it is the spirit of showing a disability in a positive light.
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Book Source: Purchased