From School Library Journal
“It wasn’t until Will’s Wildcat life came under threat that she realized how dearly she loved it.” Wilhelmina Silver—Will, Madman and Wildcat to those who love her—deeply relishes her life in rural Zimbabwe. Daughter of a mother long lost to malaria and a loving English father who is foreman at Two Tree Hill Farm, Will spends her time racing about the vibrant terrain as an uber-tomboy. Her best friend is a farmhand her own age, known since their earlier childhood: “a tall, fluid black boy to her waiflike, angular white girl.” Will’s carefree, African world shatters when her father succumbs to malaria, after which the plantation owner’s new, manipulative wife sends Will to a boarding school in London. Apparently set in the present day, the story accelerates its pace as Will uses her wits and her considerable athleticism to combat the hostility of bullying classmates and to cope with her new, cold, urban surroundings. There is an excellent balance of characters both villainous and helpful as readers follow the fiercely independent Will through hardship and into triumph. They cannot help but dearly love Will and her motto of “Truth, ja, and courage.” With debut novel Rooftoppers (2013), Rundell showed her capacity to write an entertaining story featuring a courageous female protagonist; this second novel surpasses by virtue of its striking, soaring prose. (Fiction. 8-13) (Kirkus Reviews, May 2014 *STARRED REVIEW )
*"With debut novel Rooftoppers (2013), Rundell showed her capacity to write an entertaining story featuring a courageous female protagonist; this second novel surpasses by virtue of its striking, soaring prose." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
Twelve-year-old Wilhelmina “Will” Silver loves her “wildcat life” on a farm “in the hottest corner of Zimbabwe” where she rides horses, trains monkeys, and plays with her friend Simon. Disapproving neighbors consider her “a different species,” but her widowed father thinks her “irrefutably the most beautiful creature living.” His untimely death shatters Will’s world, and results in her being sent to an English boarding school. Will’s father’s dying words, “Courage, chook, ja?” sustain her in a mystifying new environment for which she has no preparation or advocate, where mocking classmates call her savage. Employing a close third-person narrative, Rundell (Rooftoppers) deftly conveys the terror that impels Will to escape into the streets of London, which she navigates with ingenuity and survival skills honed in Africa. Lyrical prose, Zimbabwean dialect, and evocative dialogue express Will’s internal and external worlds; after a street fight, “her heart was rattling around like a cutlery drawer in an earthquake. She spoke to an imaginary Simon. ‘Sha, hey?’ ” A gripping, magical, and heartwarming tale of resilience, friendship, and hope. Ages 8–12. Agent: Claire Wilson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Sept.) (Publishers Weekly, 5/19/14, STARRED REVIEW )
*"A gripping, magical, and heartwarming tale of resilience, friendship, and hope." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
“Had anyone ever been as happy as her,” wonders young Wilhelmina Silver. Will is loved fiercely by everyone around her: the owner of the Zimbabwe farm she calls home; her large, exuberant father, who manages the farm; her best friend, Simon; the local workers; and her animals—a pony and a monkey. And Will, half wild and utterly ingenuous, loves them all in return. “She’s different, right? Like fire,” says her friend Simon. But after her father’s sudden death, Will is bundled off to a boarding school in England, where the everyday savagery among her classmates destroys her sense of self and joy. This is a survival story, and Rundell achieves a heart-in-mouth state of tension in which fear for Will’s physical safety is second only to an anguished dread that Will’s spirit will be the casualty. Will’s character blazes from the pages like her beloved Zimbabwe sun, and to watch her joyful intensity falter provokes an almost physical pain. The school ringleader’s convenient change of behavior is the only slight wobble, as it is something readers will know wasn’t needed. Will’s resilience is wholly believable, though, and the advice provided by a kindly rescuer strikes a welcome note of honesty for young readers: “It is real life that takes the real courage, little wildcat . . . It’s what life is.” Rundell’s language soars in this portrait of a fierce and largehearted girl. (Booklist, *STARRED REVIEW August 1, 2014)
*"Rundell’s language soars in this portrait of a fierce and largehearted girl." (Booklist, starred review)
Will is a wildcat of a girl. Living with her father and his hired men on an African farm, she knows the wild like she knows her own heartbeat. An adventurer, explorer, friend to all animals, and as tough as any boy, Wilhemina Silver’s world is one of unrestrained joy. She knows how to create shelter in the bush, forage for food, befriend the animals, and hold her own in nearly any situation. When tragedy strikes, however, that world is shattered. Orphaned and evicted from her home, she is sent to a boarding school in London. Will has never been around girls her age, nor has she received any formal education, and her clothes, accent, and mannerisms are unacceptable to the plastic and expensive girls of Leewood School. Bullied and ostracized, Will’s survival skills are put to the test against her peers, the city, and her overwhelming sense of loss.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a treasure of a book. Rendered in beautiful, atmospheric prose, the story inspires discussion of personal identity and belonging, the nature of home, and the necessity of perseverance. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Wildcat Will’s strength and wit, and root for her as she contends with the terrible unfairness that sometimes strikes in life. While the ending rushes to a resolution, it nonetheless closes this chapter of Will’s story with hope and possibility. It may require pushing, but readers will be hooked after the first page. (VOYA August 2014)
"Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a treasure of a book." (VOYA)
When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novels A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, in which a girl is whisked from darkest India to a very different environment in England, usually in the wake of a family tragedy. As captivating as those novels were to my preteen self, what was always missing was a real portrait, not just a glimpse, of what the heroine’s life was like in the exotic place from which she came. Katherine Rundell’s Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms does exactly that. Instead of making Zimbabwe some mysterious “other” place, she imbues it with color, love and vibrancy. Her heroine, Will, is born to English parents who have made Zimbabwe their true home, and Will seems utterly suited to the country’s wild landscape, fascinating wildlife and friendly people.
Rundell’s third-person narration stays just on this side of sentimentality, as she clearly idealizes Will’s fearlessness, independence and joie de vivre. But her affection for her heroine is contagious, and when, after a series of personal tragedies, Will is sent to an English boarding school full of students more concerned with perfecting their nail polish than with exploring the world around them, readers will experience along with her a sense of disorientation, exclusion and profound homesickness. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms offers readers a sympathetic and enticing portrait of a part of the world they might not have heard of before reading this book, but will certainly be intrigued by ever after.
This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook. (BookPage September 2014)
Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers) once again demonstrates her ability to weave a story with a strong, determined female character.
Wilhelmina Silver has grown up the daughter of an English caretaker on a farm in Zimbabwe. On the farm, Will developed a talent for making friends with both humans and animals. She liked to be dusty and wet ("Dust and rain made mud. Mud was full of possibilities"). Will and her best friend, Simon ("a stretched-catapult of a boy, the scourge of the stables"), go on daily adventures with monkeys, horses and other animals. When her father dies, Captain Browne, the owner of the farm, is convinced by his new wife that it's not a proper place for a girl and Will is sent off to the Leewood School in London. Her parting from Captain Browne (and Simon) will break readers' hearts. At school, Will can't make sense of her new surroundings or the rituals ("where girls sat two by two in rows of spite"). She runs away, using her skills to navigate London, and makes a new friend. Eventually, she finds herself back at school, learning to build a bridge between her life in Zimbabwe and her new life in London.
Rundell's storytelling is magical. She creates a feisty, resilient female character who could have walked right out of a Dickens novel. This one's for readers who appreciate the classic elements of storytelling with a twist. --Susannah Richards, associate professor, Eastern Connecticut State University
Discover: An engaging, well-paced and adventurous story of a girl who learns to navigate two worlds. (Shelf Awareness September 12, 2014)
Twelve-year-old Wilhelmina Silver—aka Will, Wildcat, Madman, Cartwheel—has what she considers to be an idyllic life. Since her mother’s death when she was five, she has been ?raised? on a remote farm in Zimbabwe by her father, the farm foreman. She has been free to explore and run like the wind; ride bareback on her horse, Shumba; and has a pet monkey to keep her company. She is at home in the bush and sleeps in trees, if necessary, and routinely steals fruit and sets fires with her best friend Simon and the rest of the farm boys. She’s a good reader and keen observer, but her formal education has been sketchy at best. The things she knows to be true are not easily quantified or necessarily valued. When her father dies, she is left in the care of Captain Browne, the kindly farm owner, and his scheming and manipulative new wife. When it is announced that the farm is to be sold and Will is to be sent to a private school in England, the girl’s golden world is shattered. Leaving behind all that she has known and loves and adjusting to a cold, inhospitable climate is just part of her challenge. She has always been a quick study and a fierce competitor and there is no place for her to shine in the snooty, highly regimented school. Driven by desperation and the girls’ cruelty, Will runs away and has to work out for herself what is real, valuable, and true. Rundell’s vivid and compelling prose brings both worlds to life on a visceral level and propels her characters forward. Readers will be engaged by Will’s voice (and her colorful linguistic twists), ache for her through her sorrow and loss, and celebrate her newly sparked confidence and resolve. Warning: there will be cartwheels! (School Library Journal, *STARRED REVIEW October 2014)
"Instead of making Zimbabwe some mysterious “other” place, she imbues it with color, love and vibrancy...Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms offers readers a sympathetic and enticing portrait of a part of the world they might not have heard of before reading this book, but will certainly be intrigued by ever after." (BookPage)
"Katherine Rundell once again demonstrates her ability to weave a story with a strong, determined female character...This one's for readers who appreciate the classic elements of storytelling with a twist." (Shelf Awareness)
"Rundell’s vivid and compelling prose brings both worlds to life on a visceral level and propels her characters forward. Readers will be engaged by Will’s voice (and her colorful linguistic twists), ache for her through her sorrow and loss, and celebrate her newly sparked confidence and resolve. Warning: there will be cartwheels!" (School Library Journal, starred review)
Wilhelmina “Will” Silver, a girl “stubborn . . . and exasperating and wild and honest and true,” lives on a Zimbabwean tobacco farm with her beloved father (who serves as the foreman for Captain Browne, the owner) and spends her days barefoot and dust-covered, riding her horse with her best friend Simon. Her life takes a sudden turn when her father passes away and the elderly Captain, now her legal guardian, marries a villainous younger woman, Cynthia Vincy, who decides to send Will to boarding school back in England. Will is plucked from Zimbabwe and deposited at Leewood Academy, where she’s forced to wear a tight uniform and sleep inside walls, and where she is harassed, bullied, spit upon, and physically attacked. Will escapes for a madcap adventure in the streets of London, involving a night spent in the monkey enclosure at the London Zoo, several attempts at panhandling, and her eventual rescue by the kindly grandmother of a boy she met along the way. Author of Rooftoppers (BCCB 11/13), Rundell writes with a beautiful voice; Will’s love for her Zimbabwean home and way of describing the world around her is both gripping and profound. The plot and characters aren’t always plausible, being more suited to a colonial-era adventure than the contemporary realism of the book, but most readers will be willing to forgive these shortcomings in the name of following the courageous Will living in a world that is difficult for her to navigate. This will appeal both to fans of survival stories and those drawn to atmospheric evocations of unusual places. (Bulletin October 2014)
Will (short for Wilhelmina), the only daughter of William Silver, white foreman of the Two Tree Hill Farm in Zimbabwe, leads a “wildcat” life with her Shona best friend Simon, filled with good rich mud, lemons pulled from the tree with her teeth, harebrained stunts on horseback, and baby hyraxes in the barn. This idyll ends abruptly and tragically with her father’s death from malaria. The farm’s European owner, gentle Captain Browne, becomes Will’s guardian, but the captain has recently married the scheming Miss Vincy, whose ambition is to sell the farm and ship Will off to boarding school in England. This she does despite Will’s concerted opposition. Will’s arrival at school is a bumpy one—the other girls at Leewood insist she’s a “stinking savage” and a “filthy tramp”—and their continual harassment causes Will to finally run away. The protagonist’s passionate engagement with the world around her, her high moral standards (but not moralism), and her unconquerable search for joy will win readers to her side from the start, while Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse. Only when Will has been reduced to almost complete destitution does Rundell allow a glimmer of hope into her life, but the ending, with its promise of relief from loneliness and despair, is that much sweeter for the wait. (Horn Book Magazine November/December 2014)
Wilhelmina lives on an African farm with her father, relishing the freedom to enjoy nature and all it has to offer. Her idyllic world is shattered with the death of her father. She is sent to boarding school in London. Can she survive this new world? The author vividly describes that world and how she feels. This book would provide a good platform to discuss sudden changes and bullying. Because most students in the United States might not be familiar with Africa and England, it would be best as a read-aloud. (Library Media Connection January/February 2015)
"Rundell writes with a beautiful voice...both gripping and profound." (BCCB)
"Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse." (Horn Book Magazine)