Steffi Brons is 16. She has been selectively mute since she was five. She is intensely lonely, especially as her adored stepbrother Clark three years ago died in a car crash on his way home from university. To help Steffi communicate, her family have taught her British Sign Language. Starting sixth form, Steffi is without her best friend Tem. She finds herself paired with a boy named Rhys Gold, who is deaf. At least Steffi will be able to sign to Rhys.
Barnard’s novel poses two significant questions. Steffi is dead set on getting to university. Will she be able to overcome her impairment sufficiently to get to college? And will she make a friend of Rhys along the way?
It would have been easy for Barnard to fall into a familiar trap, depicting two brave souls battling against undeserved impairments. This trap she avoids. Steffi and Rhys are two perfectly normal teenagers with flaws of character and bad habits just like everyone else. The two of them make an unannounced journey to Edinburgh, during which Rhys falls and breaks his arm. He and Steffi have a bitter row about the accident. It turns out that Rhys has cast himself in the role of the protective male and is frustrated not to be able to fulfil it. He is as prone to gender stereotypes as any other young male.
Barnard explores in convincing style a telling and complex issue: Rhys has attended a school with a substantial group of deaf children, mingling with children who hear. In a mainstream school where everyone else hears, how does Rhys feel at ease? In which world does he truly belong? It is a question that many young people, especially young disabled people, pose for themselves, but one that authors rarely mention. This reviewer made the transition from a Special Educational Needs school to the mainstream and thence to university. Barnard’s book resounds with echoes of that time. I would recommend this book as widely as possible.