I had the privilege of reading the most unusual book over the weekend—Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell. It was recommended to me by a friend with exquisite taste, so I immediately put it on hold. When the book came, I confess that I was put off by the cover. I hate the cover (yes, I am one of those people, I am sad to say.) If it hadn’t been for my friend’s recommendation I wouldn’t have read it, but I reluctantly opened it and soldiered on.
And even after I’d read for a while, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the main character, although the language of the book is exquisite. Twelve-year-old Wilhelmina Silver has been raised in Zimbabwe, Africa on a ranch full of men who let her run absolutely wild. Really, she is completely uncivilized. One of her more throat-closing activities is biting ticks—because, after all, they bit her first! She is daring and brave, and has every skill necessary to survive on her own, but when her father dies and the ranch owner, her new guardian, marries a hard-hearted gold digger, Wil is sent to live in England at a boarding school.
As you can imagine, this does not go well.
As I was reading, I felt a great deal of sympathy—for the girls in the school. Yes, I felt sorry for Wil as well, but I sympathized most with the girls. Wil eats like an animal, doesn’t bathe (she doesn’t want to lose the smell of Africa), wipes her filthy hands on her hair, and doesn’t want to be touched. Every time a girl tries to be kind, Wil accidentally rebuffs her. Finally, the girls declare all-out war on Wil, and Wil decides that it’s time to head back to Africa. The wheels really fall off the bus at this point.
The book coalesces for me at the very end, when the author reveals why the story is titled Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. This ending meant a lot to me. I really don’t want to give it away, but you should read the book just for the ending, if not the lovely language and imagery. It speaks of the goodness and benefit of enduring hard things, a lesson we all need.
Put this book into the hands of kids who like strong female characters, misbehaving, or just love words.