Link to Waterstones pre-order
Published: Bloomsbury, Jan 7th 2021
This debut middle grade novel is already getting fab reviews on social media and so when I was given the opportunity to review it via NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. It didn't disappoint. The Valley of Lost Secrets is a wonderfully authentic, historical novel full of larger than life characters that will make your heart both sing and weep.
When Jimmy and his younger brother, Ronnie are evacuated from London to the Welsh countryside, Jimmy struggles to adjust. But when he discovers a human skull in a tree, things take an even more worrying turn. With bullies on his tail and a younger brother to fend for, will Jimmy be able to solve the secrets of the valley and make peace with his new life?
This novel not only provides a fantastic emotional and educational insight into what it must have been like to be evacuated, but offers up a plot full of mystery and suspense alongside themes of family and friendship. Jimmy is a flawed, sometimes sullen character, but Lesley Parr writes beautifully from his perspective to show how deeply vulnerable he feels as an evacuee sent away from his family to a strange place. His protectiveness over adorable Ronnie is completely heart-warming and Ronnie's character lightens the tone with deftly written scenes of humour.
For me, the developing (and expertly-written) relationships between the characters is what makes this novel stand out. Jimmy and Florence, Ronnie and Florence, Jimmy and Mrs. Thomas are all new relationships that each evolve on the page in very different ways. Through them, Lesley Parr conveys how fragile and complex burgeoning friendships can be but also how solid they can become. However, it was Jimmy's emerging bond with Mr. Thomas that really made me emotional and I absolutely loved Mr. Thomas' character and the power of slow, silent communication.
The Valley of Lost Secrets also effectively highlights the negative impact that gossip and prejudice has on both an individual and on an community as a whole. This felt stark in comparison to the love and acceptance which the Thomas' chose to bestow on Jimmy and Ronnie and which Florence also received from her new family. I loved that both the children and the Thomas' were affected by the negative behaviour of some of the villagers, showing that bullying can affect people of all ages. I winced at the scenes where Ronnie disappeared and found this section of the novel a challenging but eye-opening read.
Although set during the war, the mystery of the skull provides a mystery that culminates in the most heart-wrenching and heart-warming end. Tears were shed, again because of the power and beauty of the relationships and the writing.
Overall, this is a stunning novel about evacuation, hardship, challenging times and the strengths and weaknesses of human behaviour. The characters feel like real people and the pages literally transport you back to the Welsh countryside in the 1940's. You are there experiencing life with Jimmy in a fully immersive story.
The Valley of Lost Secrets is released on Jan 7th 2021 and is available to pre-order. Many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to read and review.