The Valley of Lost Secrets
By Author / Illustrator
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Paperback / softback
September 1939.When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, it couldn't be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place. But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed. Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy - and the village - forever.A mesmerising mystery about bravery and brotherhood from an outstanding new voice.
Jimmy and his little brother Ronnie are evacuated from London to a Welsh mining town Llanbryn. It is a very different place from their home, with mountains and coal mines and a tightly knit community. Jimmy is wary of everything and determined not to like it as it would seem like a betrayal of his own family. The boys are taken in by Mr and Mrs Thomas, who themselves seem sort of outcasts in their own town. Jimmy can sense a mystery there but also does not want to let them get too close as he feels disloyal to his Dad and Gran back in London. Then Jimmy finds a skull in a tree and things become a little more frightening. With a new friendship he never expected, Jimmy sets out to find out the secret that lies behind the discovery of the skull.
This novel is debut and whilst historical fiction, it feels somehow fresh and modern. The characters are marvellously portrayed and the relationships beautifully depicted - particularly between Jimmy and Ronnie, but also with Jimmy and the adults. The sense of mistrust from the community of these children coming in from the city is very clearly woven into the story and is as relevant today as always. The idea that if you are a newcomer from an entirely different place you must be bad, is a familiar theme in the current climate as well.
David Dean is the illustrator of both the cover and the internal pages. The pictures hold sort of clues to each chapter and add to the story and the mystery.
Whilst this is a story of evacuees and the second World War, the war itself does not feature that much; it is all about the place and the sense of place comes across particularly strongly. I could picture the town and how it must have seemed to the incoming inner-city children. This is not a war story, but one of mystery, belonging and friendship and I am looking forward to reading the next book from Lesley Parr.
304 pages / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
This lovely book is one of the best debut novels I have been privileged to read in a long time. Mysterious, exciting and moving, it really does have everything!
Set during the Second World War, it tells the story of twelve year old Jimmy Travers and his younger brother Ronnie, who have been evacuated from London to the relative safety of Llanbryn, a village in Wales. The boys are billeted with Alun and Gwen Thomas. Ronnie settles in quickly, but Jimmy is less ready to become part of the Thomas' family.
Other children from the boys' London school have also been evacuated to Llanbryn, including Jimmy's best friend, Duff, and Florence Campbell, a girl from a notorious London family whom Jimmy has never liked.
As the boys' time in Wales unfolds, Jimmy is betrayed by Duff, who joins forces with some local boys, and becomes a bully. Some of the villagers are mistrustful of the evacuees, and when money goes missing, they are quick to blame the newcomers. While out exploring in the valley above the village, Jimmy discovers a human skull hidden in an old wych elm tree, and the story really takes flight.
The real joy of this book is the characters. Jimmy is lost at first, missing his father and grandmother in London and a little annoyed at how quickly Ronnie takes to life in Wales. Jimmy loves his brother intensely, and is quick to stand up to anyone who hurts him in any way. Ronnie is lovable and funny, and, despite being so young, he plays a large part in the story. He is also very brave - when he is kidnapped by Duff and the other bullies, he refuses to give away any information about the hidden skull. Florence, for me, is the real star of the show. Scruffy and neglected at the start of the story, she is taken in by the Hughes family, and blossoms under their care. From the moment she punches one of the bullies who are tormenting Ronnie, she becomes a real friend to Jimmy, and together they join forces to unravel the mystery of the skull - and the missing money!
Throughout the book we see Jimmy's attitude towards the Thomas family changing, he becomes closer to them, especially Mr Thomas. The exchanges between these two characters are beautifully written, and are very moving.
The author lovingly describes life in a small Welsh community where everyone knows everyone, and yet a huge secret lies hidden at its heart. In The Valley of Lost Secrets, Lesley Parr has given us a real l gem of a book. I can see teachers covering World War 2 using it as a class reader, and I would not be surprised to see it featuring in awards lists in the coming year. I look forward to seeing what delights this clever author offers us next!
304 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, School Librarian
Suggested Reading Age 9+