One of my favourite topics when it comes to reading is mental health and so I was instantly intrigued when I saw that the protagonist of this book is a girl whose anxiety presents itself as selective mutism.
It’s Steffi’s first day at sixth form and she’s determined that this is going to be the year that she turns things around. Suffering from severe anxiety has resulted in her only being able to speak to her immediate family and best friend Tem, but if she’s to make it to university she must prove that she can manage on her own. Maybe it’s a good thing then that she’s been asked to befriend the deaf new-boy Rhys by putting her basic British Sign Language skills to use. Sure, it’s not the same as speaking out loud but it’s a start, right?
From the first couple of pages it was clear that I was going to enjoy this book. I loved Steffi’s narrative, demonstrating that just because a person doesn’t often use their voice it doesn’t mean that they have nothing to say. The lists that feature at the end of several chapters are a nice addition and I also liked the distinction between the different forms of communication i.e. text messages, online chats and BSL.
In terms of the story itself it was a very accurate representation of anxiety. Whilst I don’t have it as bad as Steffi there were a number of points that I could identify with, including a section on why it’s difficult to participate in group conversations. One sentence particularly stood out to me – “Little victories are everything in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in your head”. All of this made the dedication at the front of the book to “all the quiet ones” all the more relevant.
Of course this is also very much a YA romance story and so I was pleased that the relationship between Steffi and Rhys developed in a natural and genuine way. There were many cutesy moments but they were balanced with more difficult subjects such as grief and fitting in with society. Intimacy is also handled in a positive light and whilst I wasn’t anticipating the story to get quite so R-rated it was good to read the detailed thoughts and descriptions.
Other positive points to mention include a good dose of dogs, the strong friendship between Steffi and Tem as well as her family, plus the discussion/resolution of issues at the end of the story. It was also an unexpected bonus that the story is set about an hour away from where I live – at one point I correctly predicted a location that would be visited due to my knowledge of the area. It’s probably the most local that a story’s setting is ever going to get for me.
I have to admit that despite buying the author’s debut novel and getting it signed at YALC in July I’ve yet to actually read it. This book though has cemented my interest in reading it as soon as I can. Unfortunately I’ve got a few more e-galleys to read/review first before I can get back to working through my physical TBR pile. Speaking of e-galleys, thank you to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for letting me read this to begin with 🙂
Goodreads rating = 4 stars.