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Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

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Even a life on the untamed plains of Africa can’t prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this lovely and lyrical novel from the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure.”

Wilhelmina Silver’s world is golden. Living half-wild on an African farm with her horse, her monkey, and her best friend, every day is beautiful. But when her home is sold and Will is sent away to boarding school in England, the world becomes impossibly difficult. Lions and hyenas are nothing compared to packs of vicious schoolgirls. Where can a girl run to in London? And will she have the courage to survive?

From the author of the “witty, inventively poetic” Rooftoppers comes an utterly beautiful story that’s sure to be treasured.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 6, 2011

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About the author

Katherine Rundell

27 books896 followers
Katherine Rundell was born in 1987 and grew up in Africa and Europe. In 2008 she was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Her first book, The Girl Savage, was born of her love of Zimbabwe and her own childhood there; her second, Rooftoppers, was inspired by summers working in Paris and by night-time trespassing on the rooftops of All Souls. She is currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel.

Source: Katherine Rundell

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 414 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
October 29, 2019
Her knees smelled the same as the air, of woodsmoke and earth. Had anyone ever been as happy as her?

having loved Rooftoppers more than most other books i read back in 2013, i was completely unprepared for my very tepid reaction to this one. i'm not gonna lie, it actually broke my heart a little. because Rooftoppers was perfect. it really was. rundell's writing in that book made me swoon and the whole tone of the book was so fresh and rambunctious and off-kilter in a way that made me feel exhilarated and nostalgic all at once. i pushed it at everyone i knew with an under-twelve daughter with very positive results. it's so rare that i read middle grade and i felt that i had stumbled upon a treasure and that rundell would be that perfect game-changing author who elevated middle grade to the level that john green elevated YA, where adults were unashamed to be reading the same books as their kids because they were so lovely and appealing no matter your physical age.

but this one… this one seemed much safer and more traditional. it has the feeling of a "lost classic" to it, something to be read alongside The Secret Garden or A Little Princess (neither of which i have actually read, mind you, but i stand by the comparisons, particularly in this book's "tea party" scene) and classics are great and remain beloved for a reason, but they still read like products of their time; dated, static, fine stories, but without the transporting power of something as unusual and "new" as Rooftoppers.

this one lacked sparkle, is i guess the best way to put it.

it starts out strong - wilhelmina a.k.a. "will," "madman," "wildcat," "cartwheel," is twelve years old and living on two tree hill farm in zimbabwe with her beloved father william. she barely remembers her mother, who died of malaria when will was only five, but her father loves her enough for two parents. they are of english descent, but will has only ever known an african life. she has her horse, her pet monkey, her own mango tree and a nest of baby hyrax*. she also has an african best friend named simon, a friendship of "the firmest, stickiest, and eternal sort." will spends her days running carefree and barefoot in the bush, as unruly and unfettered as a wild creature. she is "stubborn [and] exasperating and wild and honest and true." her father is indulgent with her, and all she has ever known is love and independence.

Wilhelmina knew that there were some houses that had glass in every window and locks on the doors.

The farmhouse in which she lived was not one of them. If there was a key to the front door, Wilhelmina had never seen it. It was likely that the goats that wandered in and out of the kitchen had eaten it.

there are very few rules, but one of them is a doozy, which is that it is forbidden …to wear clothes that had not been ironed - even vests; even socks. Ironing was the only way to kill the putsi fly that laid eggs on damp clothes and burrowed into your arms and legs without you feeling it.

do not click this if you are squeamish. will would click it, but you don't have to


will's relationship with her father is the same kind of quirkily loving relationship as sophie and charles in Rooftoppers, where they are both in admiring awe of each other and share secrets, a language of whistles, and a bond that is heartswellingly tender.

which is why it hurts so much when they are wrenched apart. because circumstances occur which end in will being sent away from the only home she has ever known to an all-girl's boarding school in england, where there is no freedom, no wide open spaces, and no sunshine - only gray and drizzly ("grizzly") weather.

and that's where the book became less interesting to me. the decision to send will away comes at the insistence of cynthia, the beautiful and much-younger gold-digging widow who weds the farm's owner, captain browne. despite will's having been like a beloved daughter to this man, she is sent into a country completely foreign to her experience, which will feels is as sharp as betrayal. and it is a betrayal. she is unprepared for how different her life is about to become. cynthia assures her new husband that will needs to become more civilized; to be around others like her, which means white people, but which also means girls.

but it also means no more freedom, no more animals, no more sleeping outside.

or does it?

long story short - will does not assimilate well. most of the girls at the school are bullies, and she hates them all instantly. between cynthia and the boarding school girls, there aren't many positive portrayals of females in this book. and naturally, when will does make an english friend, it's a boy. which is not my favorite thing about this book, will's instant dislike of other girls.

i also am not really a fan of just how much will is unable to acclimate, because there's a difference between being free-spirited and being flat-out nell. really? will doesn't know how to use a spoon? despite the story at one point stating her heart was rattling around like a cutlery drawer in an earthquake. it just didn't ring true, and her wildness actually kind of propagates stereotypes of africa and africans as wild and uncultured to these little rich white girls. it's not great.

and once she says "see ya" to the school and takes to the london streets for her urban adventure, i felt the story went off the rails a little. i wish there had been a stronger relationship between the "survival skills" she used on the streets and her old african life. there are a couple of parallels, but i think it could have been emphasized a bit more to make it a more cohesive story overall. i mean, it might have been a little trite, message-wise, but this is middle grade after all; it doesn't need to be super-subtle.

this is in no way a bad book; it's just not nearly as special as her first. there are still examples of her soaring and lyrical prose, but here it's just a bit clunkier, a bit less magical. the writing is peppered with phrases and slang in afrikaans and the shona dialect, which gives it a nice rollicking rhythm, and the way rundell writes about zimbabwe, where she herself lived until she was fourteen, is absolutely worth the cover price.

i do think this is a book that middle grade girls will love - will is a strong female character and there's enough beauty in the prose to make it stand out from many other books for this age group, but if you are the parent of a little girl, you would be doing her a disservice, developmentally, if you didn't go out and get her a copy of Rooftoppers right now.

i'm still going to read her next one, which comes out soon - two days after my birthday, in fact, because look at that cover!

and i am way excited about a girl-and-wolves story. i hope that the sparkle of Rooftoppers returns. sparkle would be a very thoughtful birthday present.

*these are hyraxes:

cute right?? yeah but also

be careful!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Diane Yannick.
569 reviews744 followers
November 6, 2015
This is my 9 year old granddaughter's rating. Since it's written for the middle grades, I thought this would be appropriate. I read it on her advice and enjoyed it. Will is an engaging wildcat of a girl who had the freedom to do as she wished in the wildly beautiful country of Zimbabwe. Simon, her best friend, observed that one of the hazards of being her friend was that she disappeared for long stretches of time "rambling over the bush, singing softly, eating fruit, telling stories to aloe plants and birds." For me, it was the author's descriptions of this African life that were most vibrant. Many of her descriptions were fresh, evocative and uniquely constructed.

Once she got to her new boarding school in England, I was less intrigued although this was not so for my granddaughter, Amelia.. I felt like Cynthia, Samantha and Mrs. Robinson were stereotypes who could have easily been better rounded. Amelia was pulled along wondering how Will would choose to deal with her new classmates and country.

I finished this book convinced that it would be a great choice for middle age readers to read and discuss. (Or a parent/child read) Even though Will wanted to run away from her problems, in the end she faced them. The novel ended perfectly without everything tied into a neat little bow like some authors think kids need. There was still plenty to ponder about Will and her new life.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,249 reviews393 followers
October 25, 2014
After enjoying Rooftoppers so much, I was excited for KR's new book. The first 50 pages are full of the whimsy of her first: young white wild child Wilhemina (Will, Wildcat, Cartwheel), her great love of Zimbabwe, her black friend Simon, her foreman father and the ranch owner, Captain Browne. When her father dies of malaria, the young, evil manipulating wife ships Will off to boarding school in England, where she is miserable and abused by her classmates. The next 150 pages are difficult for her and the reader, including her running away. Will finally stumbles across some kindness, and they convince her to return to school, where she is no longer seen as a pariah. This happy ending seems woefully inconsistent with teenage girl behavior, particularly for the privileged. 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Kristen Peppercorn .
540 reviews96 followers
May 8, 2018
This ended up to be a sweet book, although, for a relatively short book, it did take me a little while to get into it. The characters, overall story and the message were alright, but the writing was definitely the best thing about it. This one is probably my least favorite book by my author, but I still enjoyed it.

Now please enjoy some quotes from this book that perfectly illustrate Katherine Rundell's gorgeous writing style:

"Letters, she thought, were just like books - mostly about love."

“Her voice, he thought, was like water running over pebbles in sunshine.”

“It was never too late, she said, to turn a living thing around, and a garden was the most living of things.”
Profile Image for Becky.
404 reviews12 followers
September 8, 2014
Here is a book that I will be sharing with our "juvenile" readers from here to forever! This was a wonderful story of Wilhelmina - a girl raised on the African plains by her father. This life is all she knows and she loves everything about it. It is all stripped away from her when her father dies and his farm is taken over by a wealthy woman from a nearby city that wants nothing to do with Will. Will is sent to a boarding school in England and so begins her downward spiral - taunting from other girls, her feeling of being trapped in the school, and loss of all she loves. This is a tender, touching story that sticks with you long after you finish. I loved it!
Profile Image for Sandra pielasit_sirdi.
447 reviews79 followers
May 16, 2022
Kamēr Latvijā var lasīt nesen @janisrozeinsta izdoto Rundellas grāmatu par ledainu ziemu un vilkiem, ķeros klāt pirms nu jau pāris gadiem iegādāto autores pašu pirmo grāmatu. Šo viņa velta savai bērnībai Zimbabvē, neaizmirstot pretnostatīt tik diametrāli pretējo dzīvi Rietumos-Londonā, vietā, kur Katrīna arī kādu laiku pavadījusi.

🐞”The Girl Savage” galvenā varone Wilhelmina jeb Will aug kopā ar tēvu ļoti trūcīgos apstākļos, toties viņas spēļu pasaule un brīvība Zimbabvē ļauj izpausties viņas nevaldāmajam raksturam. Taču, kad tēvs nomirst, viņa tiek aizsūtīta izglītoties uz Angliju, kur iepazīst vienaudžu mobingu. Jaunā rietumu pasaule ir sveša, nesaudzīga un biedējoša…

Šķiet, ka katrā grāmatā autore mēģina ielikt daļiņu no sevis, bet pats galvenais-radīt drosmīgas, savādākas varones, kuras neiekļaujas pelēkajā sabiedrībā..
Profile Image for Jarm Boccio.
Author 1 book30 followers
September 3, 2015
This story captures the essence of what it means to be African. Poignant account of a young Zimbabwe girl with English origins who is ripped from the life she loves and plunged into the strange culture that is England. A place where order is paramount, and so unlike the freedom of the bush. I was immediately pulled in to the setting as if in a dream, from the first few pages, with the author's lyrical voice. It is best appreciated in an audio book. Perfect preparation for a trip to this vast continent!
1 review
April 25, 2022
It was slow and hard to get in to at first, but after you get past the beginning it is an amazing book.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,362 reviews454 followers
August 17, 2018
Rundell is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. I'm kind of surprised I haven't heard more about her books, because Adventure tends to be a subject that kids love.

Will has grown up on a Zimbabwean farm where she was pretty much left to do whatever she wanted which mostly involved casual gymnastics and camping out in the bush, and just messing about with the other kids on the farm. She enjoys reading, too, but it's clear that her life is devoid of most of what a Western child would expect: no regular schooling, no after school lessons or play dates arranged for her. She is almost feral and happy with it.

And then she ends up being sent to a London boarding school and it is ghastly. She doesn't know any of what her peers take for granted: the way schools operate with bells, the subjects covered in class: she is the hick to end all hicks and the mean girls are brutal.

It's refreshing to read about a character who does not fit in, and who is shunned by her peers, and the author makes it clear that most readers would shun her too: Will is too out of her depth to be ingratiating or subservient. She is no Little Princess.

Colonialism and racism are never broached because Will doesn't see them. It isn't a good authorial stance, but it is an appropriate one: Will is totally self-absorbed. There are a lot of tomboys in literature, but few of them get to be truly awful. It's still a delightful change. All the women in this book are fierce, all in different ways, but they're intimidating as hell.

Library copy
Profile Image for ༺Kiki༻.
2,000 reviews106 followers
February 6, 2017
I adored Will and her fierce wildness. The imagery of Zimbabwe was so inviting. I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book, before Will was sent to England. The second half of the story left me wondering...

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy:

Home of the Brave
Flora and Ulysses
A Little Princess
Profile Image for Penny Peck.
501 reviews18 followers
October 27, 2014
Will lives on a ranch in Zimbabwe and is a bit of wild child - her mom died a while ago and she is the only female around. This first third of the book is quite interesting, giving readers a real feel for this country. Later a tragedy occurs and Will is forced to London to a girls' boarding school, where she not only doesn't fit in, she can't cope at all with everyday activities like bathing or eating in the cafeteria. Then she escapes and that final third is also compelling, focusing on her urban survival abilities. Will is an interesting female character due to her skills and the three sections actually work well together although each is quite different. A great book with a strong female protagonist to recommend to tweens, with the added plus that it is a page-turner, and introduces readers to a country that is not that well know in the U.S.
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,116 reviews11.1k followers
February 6, 2017
It's difficult for me to figure out how I feel about this novel. In many respects, I think that Wilhelmina's story is one of a courageous little girl making the best of foreign circumstances that have upended her world. It broke my heart to see her go through so much hardship, and it was jarring to feel her displacement due to the move so keenly (since I moved to a new place at a similar age). What I did feel was a bit on the lackluster side was the secondary character development, but it didn't deter me from my appreciation of Will's story.
Profile Image for Heather.
429 reviews13 followers
June 7, 2015
This review is for the audiobook.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms will break your heart over and over. Wilhelmina has spent her childhood in Africa running wild with the farm boys, especially her best friend Simon. She loves riding her horse, climbing trees and being free, but she also loves ironing her father’s socks so he doesn’t catch parasites because she loves her father very, very much. Will’s mother died when she was young, and when her father becomes ill with the same cholera that killed her mother, Will’s life changes drastically. She is suddenly ripped from her beloved home in Zimbabwe and sent to boarding school in London. The wild girl is soon broken and you will weep for her again and again.

Bianca Amato is perfect as Will. She sounds youthful and free. Amato does a splendid job voicing the African farmhands’ Zimbabwean dialect as well as the snooty girls in the London.

There are a few technical problems with this recording, including a few pauses that were overly long and audible breath intakes, especially at the start of the chapters. However, the overall story telling is so good that these minor instances can be overlooked.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,277 reviews275 followers
May 31, 2014
I read this book with an intensity that was almost painful. After loving Rooftoppers, I was eager to love this book, too, but I found it very grim. . . and I keep wondering why that is so. There is just so much loss in it. The displaced orphan is a familiar trope of children's literature, and it features in some of my favourites going all the way back to A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, but usually those losses take place mostly "off-stage". Will's wild childhood in Africa is so lovingly described and then so thoroughly dismantled. The displacement to English boarding school is so cold and harsh. And sadly, the bits of friendship and hopefulness seem all too meagre -- way too little, and way too late -- for both the young heroine and the reader. Still, Rundell is a hugely talented writer. She managed to make me suffer right along with her plucky, Pippi-ish young heroine. The thought of a shoeless, scantily clad Will roaming around London alone makes me shiver just to think of it!
534 reviews4 followers
September 22, 2014
As with Rundell's book Rooftoppers, this book drew me in quickly and didn't let go. I fell in love with the characters of Will and Simon - their easy friendship and their love of nature and Africa. This book is not all sunshine and roses though - the title is, after all, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms - that is to say, learning to persevere through difficult things in life. Will is a free spirit, and when that free spirit is corralled and sent to a London boarding school, she has a very difficult time adjusting. Nothing about this move is easy - not the absence of her beloved country and friends, not the girls in the school and their harsh treatment of her and certainly not the circumstances that brought about this move. However, in the end, the story leaves the reader with a sense of hope - a sense of possibilities. Cartwheeling in the sunshine is easy - cartwheeling in thunderstorms takes some pretty major skill and determination - a lesson that will resonate with readers.
Profile Image for Kim McGee.
2,868 reviews50 followers
May 31, 2015
Whilhemina, known as Will, lives on an African farm and is blissfully happy hanging out with the local stable boys and getting into trouble. She is rough, she is wild and her father loves her very much. When tragedy happens and Will's father passes away and the guardian she has come to trust sends her instead to a boarding school in England, Will's world is upended. Her life there is miserable and she runs, searching for anything in England that will feel like the home she once knew. In running she will find the courage to go back until she is able to be back in Africa once more. For anyone who has ever felt like an outcast, for anyone who has been relocated and can't find the familiar - this is the book for you. Will's story feels very much like that of the female aviator, Beryl Markham. The magic of the African savannah comes through and you will find yourself rooting for Will. It is easy to see why this was the winner of the Horn Book's award for children's fiction for 2015.
Profile Image for Sara.
605 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2011
This was a fabulous book! Little Will, a wild girl from a farm in Tanzania, is a free spirit who values truth and friendship. Unfortunately for her, life is not always fair and adults aren't always true. She finds herself an orphan at an all girls school in England and has to figure out a way to come to terms with her situation. She has a great verve for life and has grand adventures, but always you feel a little worried and heart-broken for her. I feel like the language and dialect might be a bit challenging for younger kids, but tweens and even teens would enjoy this.
Profile Image for Sarah B.
813 reviews13 followers
May 6, 2022
I absolutely loved this story!

Will is just such a unique, fun loving, wild character! I admit I have no idea how to pronounce her full name of Wilhelmina as it looks like quite the tongue twister, but a unique name like that is perfect for such a unique girl. She races with her horse, lives with a monkey, beats up boys, scrambles around in the dirt, steals fruit from neighbors and even cooks some questionable things. She's never been to school and she's fourteen years old. Basically she has the freedom to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

But one day that all comes to a screeching halt...

Her father is sick. And some horrid fussy woman comes!

I am sure you can guess what happens next. The two just hate each other! And before Will knows what is happening she is sent off to this freezing school in London. Freezing as she is used to the heat of Africa.

I was caught up on all of Will's adventures, both in Africa and in London. She truly does some crazy things. She may not know how the modern world works but she is very clever and she has a good head on her shoulders. But I do feel sorry that she was sent off to such a cruel place where she doesn't fit in or understand things. To me it's just common sense that you can't stick someone in an algebra class if they were never really taught how to do math - makes me wonder how smart those teachers truly are! And I certainly can relate to Will not fitting in.

But she faces her fears in here and makes some hard decisions. It's not always easy to face your problems but running away doesn't solve anything.

The end was a bit fake in my opinion. I really don't think those girls would change. But I enjoyed reading this too much to complain about it.
286 reviews
December 29, 2017
I will admit that I went into this very wary. The whole non-boarding-school girl gets sent to boarding school is not my thing.
And I was very happy to be proved wrong.
Why was I proved wrong? Because first there is a beautiful, glorious seven chapters in Zimbabwe, where Will is wild and free. And it is all so real.
Which makes what comes next all the more achingly sad. But Will won't change. She still finds hope, eventually. And she still makes good, true friends.
Perhaps, after everything, the ending is slightly cliched, but the author's writing makes up for it and makes the ending new and special. Throughout the book, she makes the smallest things important. I was writing down quotes every other page because she says things so uniquely.
This is my second breath-taking read by Katherine Rundell.
Profile Image for Holly Ann🦋.
92 reviews3 followers
August 6, 2017
3 Stars✨

I must say, I'm not wholeheartedly in love with this book (don't hate me!). I don't really know what to say, but I'm underwhelmed and unimpressed😞

Wilhelmina's story seemed promising and looked full of potential- and if the story was longer and held more detail, that might be the case. A white Zimbabwean girl, Wilhelmina is spunky, courageous and completely out of her comfort zone when shipped off to a London Prep school for girls!

Everything seemed perfect, but when I opened the book and began to read, there was no magic there like in Rundell's other publication, Rooftoppers.

I'm not one to give out a lot of criticism, so I will pass out some wonderful points of the book. Daniel's grandmother is AMAZING! I'm in love with her. All the characters from Zimbabwe were truly fantastic, Katherine has created an atmosphere where you can actually hear the accent and the twang in their voices!

Overall, I was slightly let down by the substance in the bool, however some areas were quite brilliant! ❤️

Profile Image for Autumn.
751 reviews12 followers
September 27, 2017
While the cover is beautiful and the writing is beautiful, I was a bit bored and felt aimless because I didn't know where the story was going or how I was even going to get there. 45 pages in and the story itself still had not begun.
Profile Image for Maureen Lubitz.
568 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2015
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.

Profile Image for Daisy May Johnson.
Author 2 books163 followers
January 21, 2015
Stiffly written at points, and beautifully in others, The Girl Savage is a book of peaks and troughs. Ultimately it's an awkward read but one that retains a powerful sense of heart throughout. It is, as you may gather, somewhat confusing.

Wilhemina Silver (Will) has lived in Zimbabwe all her life with her widower father. Will lives a wild life in the bush; falling off horses, climbing trees, and in one particularly memorable incident, biting the head off a tick. It's only when her father falls ill, and ultimately dies, that her life changes.

Because this is when Cynthia makes her presence felt. Cynthia sends Will away to school in England and Will, naturally, struggles to fit in to her new world. Will she sink or will she swim in her new surroundings? And what will the schoolgirls make of the 'girl savage' in their midst?

Like I said, this book is a bit difficult. I felt it wasn't sure what it was meant to be at points; whether an elegy to Africa, a fairytale of circumstantial events, or a fish out of water tale and I think it may have been stronger if it had been more defined. Whilst the Africa sections are very beautiful (they are word-pictures at points) and clearly written with a lot of love, some of the other elements fell a little flat. The school itself didn't appear until a good halfway through the book and ultimately formed very little of the book as a whole. This meant that whilst yes, girls can be bitches,they were bitches really without any particular defined sense of context. I struggled, for example, to work out the time period this book is set in; wondering if it was historical at some points before realising at others that it was quite modern.

Will herself had a strong, unique voice, and I could hear her very well. She does slide into slightly Mary-Sue territory at times, but I never lost sense of her as a character. Whilst she is slimly defined, and almost more defined by her relationship with others, it is a technique that works here with her voice. I loved it when she spoke; the stumbling mixture of Shona and English, capped off with an edgy Ja?

So there's a lot of love in this book, a strong powerful heart, but also a lot of awkwardness to contend with. If you're interested in the school story genre, do read this as the sort of fairytale nature of school isn't one that's explored that much these days. If you're looking for a more fish out of water tale, I'd maybe plump for something like Pippi Longstocking / Opal Moonbaby instead.
Profile Image for Karen.
8 reviews1 follower
November 2, 2014
Although it took me a while to sort out all the facts of WIll's life and backstory at the beginning of this book, I am so glad I pushed through. This story begins in Zimbabwe and ends in England. Will Silver (short for Willhelmina) is a tomboy, freedom loving, who runs with the boys. Her father runs a farm and allows her to maintain her wild ways and self sufficiency. Will's mother dies of malria when WIll is just five years old. Six years later her father is also stricken down with malaria and WIll finds herself an orphan. Although the owner of the farm and her father's employer promises to take care of WIll, he is newly married and his wife will not hear of Will sticking around. The wife makes arrangements for WIll to attend a boarding school in London. This is where Will cannot fit in and cannot adapt her ways to the current societal demands of wearing a uniform or bathing. She strikes out into the wilds of London, sleeping in a tree, at the monkey enclosure at the zoo, and ending up ultimately in a new found friend's garage. After her friend's grandmother intervenes and wins WIll over to try and agree to try some societal norms. The metaphor of cartwheeling in the thunderstorm is introduced. Life is difficult but it is worth the effort. WIll is returned to her school with the promise that she may visit her new friend and his grandmother on weekends.
Profile Image for NZBook Girl.
100 reviews16 followers
July 10, 2015
Katherine Rundell's 'Rooftoppers' was one of my favourite books of a couple of years ago so I was keen to read this new title. Then I discovered it was not as new as it seemed, it had been published previously, in slightly different form, under the title 'Girl Savage'. The new title is certainly more poetic and I think contains much more of the nature of Will, the little girl character the story focuses on. She grows up wild and free on a farm in Africa, with animals and local boys as her dearest companions. Her mother has died and her father indulgent so she grows up very skilled at living an adventurous life but not at all educated in good manners and things some other adults think a young girl should know. When her circumstances change she is sent to boarding school in England where she is terrified and picked on until she takes desperate measures to escape. I really loved Will with her feisty attitude and determination to solve her problems and ached for her suffering at the hands of her peers. I also liked the way the ending didn't have her tidied up and perfect, but still true to her essential character. I don't think it grabbed me as much as 'Rooftoppers' did, but it was certainly a captivating read and enjoyed the previously unknown territory of her African childhood.
Profile Image for Emily M.
118 reviews24 followers
February 5, 2016
Katherine Rundell has blown me away again. This is my third of her books and each one has left me speechless and hugging the book. Seriously!

This novel is about a young girl, Will, growing up in Zimbabwe on a beautiful farm where she is free and happy. Orphaned, her evil guardian sends her away to an elite boarding school in London where she is mauled with the cruelty of the "mean girls" while experiencing extreme, traumatic culture shock. The darkest parts of this book are exasperating. You can truly feel Will's panic and despair, and you wonder how -- possibly! -- could this story end well. But this is mid-grade fiction, so it all ties together nicely (and with tears) in the end. Thank goodness. Read this book and you won't want anything bad to happen to this girl.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND ALL OF KATHERINE RUNDELL'S BOOKS: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Rooftoppers, and The Wolf Wilder. They are full of so much magic and light.

Profile Image for Marathon County Public Library.
1,451 reviews43 followers
January 10, 2015
Will (Wihelmina) loves her wonderful, wild life on the hot, dusty African farm where she is free to roam, climb trees and play with her best friend Simon and numerous animals all day long. Unfortunately her idyllic life comes to an abrupt halt after her father dies from malaria and her father’s friend and new guardian Captain Browne marries a heartless woman. Given no choice by his new wife he is forced to sell the farm and send Will to a strict boarding school in London. Stuck inside a rigid building in a strange, cold climate and struggling to exist in a culture she does not understand, Will is bullied by the other girls at the school who also do not understand her. This well-written, remarkable story, written for tweens, by the author of “Rooftoppers” will be enjoyed by all.

Sharyn H. / Marathon County Public Library
Find this book in our library catalog.

Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,145 reviews77 followers
January 17, 2022
She begins each day with a cartwheel and believes that reading is almost exactly the same as cartwheeling: it turns the world upside down and leaves you breathless. In her spare time, she enjoys walking on tightropes and trespassing on the rooftops of Oxford College. ~ from the author bio on inside back cover

I really liked this story about a Zimbabwean tomboy who ends up, against her will, at a boarding school in London. The themes of wild vs. cultivated are like those found in the Incorrigible Ashton Place books. Will (from Wilhelmina) is at home in the African bush, working as a 'horse boy', playing with her monkey Kezia, and enjoying the fruits of her mango tree named Marmaduke.

Then she finds herself having to cope with uniforms, schedules, and snide remarks.

I felt the ending was a wee bit wobbly.

If you are interested in this book, I beg you to listen to the *superlative* audio narration by Bianco Amato.
Profile Image for Maggie.
517 reviews46 followers
June 12, 2015
A unique voice, beautiful writing, and a completely captivating female protagonist make this book a big win for me. The first part is set in Zimbabwe, and the setting certainly feels authentic (I can't honestly judge the authenticity of it myself, but apparently the author has lived in Zimbabwe.) Pacing is always of utmost importance for middle grade novels, and this one moves along quite well: it's perhaps just a bit slow at the start, largely because of the unfamiliar setting and odd family dynamics, but I'm guessing that most kids willing to take things on faith for a bit will soon fall in love with Will and find it difficult to put the book down. My only quibble: the ending of this heartbreaking story wraps up a bit too quickly and easily for my taste.
Profile Image for Clelia Gore.
44 reviews53 followers
August 21, 2015
This lovely book started off reminding me of A Little Princess (a wonderful thing) and then took a turn I did not expect, but wholly appreciated. I sense perhaps another adventure for Will is on the horizon -- I'm hoping for it! The best part of the book was the first half, being transported to Zimbabwe and into the life of this extraordinary, completely wild and free girl, Will. Part Sara Crew from A Little Princess-part Mowgli from the Jungle Book! The design of this book was really beautiful too, from back and front cover, to the yellow leaves, to the chapter head designs that change when Will's life changes.
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