After reading Rooftoppers I knew I wanted to pick up another book by Katherine Rundell. I started Cartwheeling in thunderstorms early this afternoon and finished it before the sunset. This is a fabulous book and as Philip Pullman says on the back cover Katherine Rundell has a 'distinctive voice and a wild imagination.'
Will (Wilhelmina) has a blissfully free life in Zimbabwe. Her friends are the wild animals, her horse and the neighbourhood boys especially her best friend Simon. The farm where she has lived her whole life is owned by Captain Browne and Will's dad is the foreman. Wills' mum, Lilibet, was a very special lady who also embraced life in the wilds of Africa but sadly she died when Will was only five.
"Seven years after his wife's death, William Silver started running a temperature. The next day he collapsed on the packed earth floor of the stable."
The story now references Cinderella. Captain Browne takes a wife. She immediately plots to get rid of little Will. She organises to send this wild child to an English boarding school.
I love this description of Cynthia (Captain Browne's new wife). "Cynthia Vincy was well-dressed, strong jawed, long-legged, conscious of her power over men: formidable. ... Cynthia smiled down at Will. The smile marred the woman's perfect poise; it was a square smile, like a letter box. Cynthia was aware of this and rarely smiled."
Everything about the school is horrid. The food, the tiny room she has to share with one of the school bullies, the bitter cold and the endless rules.
"She discovered that times tables had nothing to do with time, not in fact with tables; that history was not a thousand stories building up into the colossal, strange, heart-stoppingly beautiful present; that knowing about cows and snake bites and birth and umbilical cords was irrelevant in science class. She also learned that shorts were wrong and she had gypsy hair and she wasn't funny, wasn't clever, and looked like a mad tramp in her thick socks and muddy boots."
Will finally escapes after an especially distressing incident where a gang of girls force her into a cold bath. She wanders the streets of London. It is Winter and she is only wearing shorts. She spends a night at the zoo, a night in Hyde Park and tries to hide in a corner of Harrods department store.
While at the zoo she has a chance meeting with a young boy. He shares his Mars bar and gives her half of his comic book. Later she sees an address scribbled on a corner of this comic. Perhaps she can at last find somewhere to feel safe and take refuge.
After reading Cartwheels in thunderstorms you might look for Duck for Danger (sadly long out of print), Callie and the Prince (also out of print) and Figgy in the world.
Take a minute to watch this video with Katherine Rundell where she describes her own childhood in Zimbabwe. You could also read the beautiful speech she gave at the Horn Book awards.
I do need to mention the title - Cartwheeling in thunderstorms. After her journey, both physical and emotional, Will now accepts that for now she needs to learn how to cartwheel in thunderstorms.
Kirkus have given this book a star! Here is an extract from their review :
There is an excellent balance of characters both villainous and helpful as readers follow the fiercely independent Will