A 16-year-old English girl with too much anxiety to speak in public makes a new friend.
Steffi no longer identifies as selectively mute, though she still finds it nearly impossible to speak in public. She’s currently diagnosed with a range of anxiety and communication disorders: healthier but still fragile. And Tem, her sole childhood friend, has switched schools, leaving her alone. Nevertheless, Steffi’s been doing cognitive behavioral therapy and has started medication; she’s determined to make this the year when she speaks in school. A teacher introduces Steffi to a new boy at school, Rhys, because he’s deaf, and Steffi knows a little British Sign Language. A very little—Steffi’s BSL and Rhys’ lip reading are adequate, but as their friendship grows, they switch fluidly among sign, fingerspelling, writing, and texts. Her deepening relationship with Rhys is exciting, but is he with her only because she speaks BSL? Steffi’s improving mental health might enable her to go to university despite parental ambivalence, but her expanding social life alienates her from Tem. There’s broad representation in this romantic coming-of-age novel: of perception of disability (Steffi wants to be “normal,” Rhys wouldn’t choose to hear); of family support (Steffi’s infantalizing mum, Rhys’ BSL–fluent family); of a racially diverse community (Steffi’s white, Tem’s black, Rhys is biracial black/white, and their community is realistically diverse).
Both earnest and nuanced without seeking causes or cures. (Fiction. 14-16)