Wilhemina (Will) Silver has lived in Zimbabwe with her widower father all her life. Her father is the foreman on Captain Browne's Two Tree Hill farm. Will has always had free reign of the farm. So, every day she roams the surrounding area, climbs the trees, rides her horse, and is always in the company of her "firmest, stickiest, and eternal" friend Simon. Things in Will's life seemed perfect to her, that is until her father becomes ill and the world as she knows it changes. Captain Browne brings Cynthia into the household to take care of Will's father. Will immediately recognizes that Cynthia is not your typical farmer's wife and things begin to change rapidly. Captain Browne promises Will's father on his death bed that he will care for her, but Cynthia soon convinces him that Will would be better off going to a boarding school in London. Will arrives at the Leewood School for Girls, where everything is so different then she's ever experienced before. It will take every ounce of courage she has to be able to fit in.
The first two chapters of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is told from Will and Simon's point of view, giving a glimpse of how Will is "exasperating and wild and honest and true." Actually, the first half of the book grounds you in Will's world and the authors passion for Zimbabwe, its culture and language are very evident. Rundell gives distinctive voices to Will and Simon with Zimbabwean-English to Simon's Chikorekore Shona. All of this contrasts with her experiences in moving to England. Will finds herself in a place with rules and a land of "common sense." She struggles to try to find a piece of her homeland where she is and the girls in the school make everything more difficult for her. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a hopeful story, filled with new possibilities and illustrates that "life isn't all mangoes and milk tarts."