I found Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms at the library. I love to browse the New Arrivals shelf, and see my library’s latest acquisitions. The premise interested me, so I added it to my pile of books. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a middle grade novel by Katherine Rundell.
I was initially drawn to this story because the summary on the book flap mentioned boarding school. I love boarding school stories, especially English boarding school stories. I wouldn’t say that the summary was misleading, but very little of the story actually takes place at boarding school.
The other factor that interested me was that the protagonist grows up on a farm in Africa. I have loved stories set in Africa since I first read The Power of One when I was in the eighth grade. Recently, a friend recommended the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series to me, and I fell in love with them because of the deep love for Africa that resonates throughout the stories. As soon as I began reading Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, I immediately recognized the same deep love for the land.
Wilhelmina has always lived on a little farm in Zimbabwe. She lives very simply- her window doesn’t even have a pane of glass- but she is happy. She has friends, a horse, and a vast world to explore. Will doesn’t appear to have had very much of a formal education, but she has finely honed survival skills and is very resourceful.
When tragedy strikes, Will is sent far away, across the continent and the ocean to boarding school in England. Will experiences culture shock- a posh school is no place for a wild girl who has grown up around men and boys on a farm. The other girls tease Will relentlessly, and when she can no longer bear their cruelty, she runs away.
On her own in London, Will must come to terms with her new reality. She can survive in the African wilderness, but urban London is a wholly new experience for the young girl. Returning to her beloved farm is not an option, and if she is going to move forward, she needs to figure out who she is and what she wants for herself. She must be braver than she has even been if she is going to survive in her new world.
I loved Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms and would recommend it to others. Will is a dear and tender child. She is utterly charming, and Rundell has given Will such a beautiful and unique voice. It broke my heart to see the girls at school treating her so poorly, and I felt very invested in Will’s ordeal and how she would overcome the obstacles set before her. I also thought that Rundell’s deep love for Africa shines through the prose, and that made me appreciate this book even more. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a wonderful book for middle grade readers, perhaps those in 4th-8th grade.