Memorial Day Reading

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 22, 2015

We’re closed for Memorial Day, and guess what that means? Pleasure reading!!
I’m just coming off Nova Ren Suma’s haunting and memorable The Walls Around Us, which is part Black Swan, part Orange Is the New Black. The story and its evocative telling linger. A terrific read.
Now I’m reading Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell, which came out last August but which I somehow missed. Her charming Rooftoppers was one of my favorite books of 2013, so when I noticed Cartwheeling on our shelves recently, I did a funny little hop and happy squeak. The first page alone assured me that I was not going to be disappointed, and by page 6, I was thoroughly enchanted. This book already reminds me of two of my very favorite books (which few people I know have read, so they may not be a helpful comparison): Olive Ann Schreiner’s adult novel The Story of an African Farm, with its cross-racial best-friendship and beautiful African setting; and Maria Gripe’s Hugo and Josephine, a story of two best friends, a boy and a girl, where one of the characters refuses to be bound by conventional expectations.
In Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, young Wilhemina (known as Will) is a funny, fiercely independent scrap of a girl with free reign of lots of Zimbabwean farm land as the daughter of the farm’s caretaker.  And Simon, well,

“Simon was Will’s best friend. He was everything that she wasn’t—a tall, fluid black boy to her waiflike, angular white girl. It had not been love at first sight. When Simon had arrived to train as a farmhand, Will had taken one single look and with six-year-old certainty announced that, no, she did not like him. He was flimsy. [….] But it hadn’t taken long for Will to see that Simon was breathing, leaping, brilliant proof that appearances are deceptive. In fact, she knew now, Si was a stretched-catapult of a boy, the scourge of the stables, with a hoarse laugh much too deep for him, and arms and legs that jerked and broke any passing cup or plate. [….] He smelled to the young Will of dust and sap and salt beef.

Will had smelled to Simon of earth and sap and mint.

So with such essential aspects in common—the sap, most obviously, but also the large eyes and the haphazard limbs—it was inevitable that the two fell in sort-of-love by the time they were seven, and by the time their ages were in double digits, they were friends of the firmest, stickiest, and eternal sort.”

In addition to a lively, spritely writing and terrific characters, Katherine Rundell has a gift for getting inside her character’s heads and articulating the kinds of things we all think but rarely express. I’ll indulge myself with one more example:

“…Will stayed in the sun, trying not to smile. Because Will didn’t take orders from anyone. She crouched down, making her most aggravating proud-face, and began scratching a W in the dirt with a long stick. A beetle lumbered up it and onto her arm, and she stilled herself, enjoying the tickling feeling of its thread-thin feet. It was deep green with shimmers of blue and turquoise, with pitch-black legs. She kissed it very softly. If happiness were a color, it would be the color of this beetle, thought Will.”

Isn’t that just lovely? And all by page 9.
I can’t wait to read the rest of this novel! I suspect that by the time it’s over, I might also be likening it to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, because I accidentally read the flap copy and discovered that Will is going to be torn away from her beloved Zimbabwe and plunked into a London boarding school.
What will you be reading over the long weekend?

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