It’s very rare that I read a debut that completely steals my heart away but Lesley Parr’s, ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is one of these unique finds. From the moment Jimmy and his brother Ronnie arrive in Llanbryn, a small mining village, we can feel the impact evacuation and the war has on him. It’s not the green lush countryside his Dad promised him, he can’t read the sign at the train station and nothing feels right everything feels wrong. While Ronnie quickly settles in and embraces his new life with the Thomas’s, Jimmy is reluctant and resentful. Convinced the war will be over by Christmas, he doesn’t want to accept their kindness feeling like it would be a betrayal to his family. Despite being surrounded by people, he feels alone. His best friend has changed and there’s no one he can confide in. But then Jimmy discovers a secret hidden in the valley, a skull inside a tree. He realises that this is too much for even him to figure out by himself and with the help of an unlikely friend they try to find out the truth, a truth that will change lives in the most unexpected of ways.
I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I would feel when I read this book and it’s because Lesley has a talent for creating characters that you genuinely care about. You know when a story has completely taking over your heart and mind, when you’re desperate to find out what happened to the characters after the story finishes. She gives us a real insight into the characters in the smallest of ways which for me makes it even more powerful. For Jimmy it’s his physical reaction of the relief of knowing someone is safe, while for Florence it’s her desperate need to have the one small thing found that makes her feel loved and cared for. I really felt like the setting was a character in it’s own right, the reader is completely transported to Llanbryn a place where knowing everyone can be a blessing and a curse. You could feel the stares from those who were suspicious of the refugees penetrating the children’s minds and could see how much it effected them. I love how Lesley chose to show the Wales she loves, an industrial heartland where the harshness of the mine may contrast against the beauty of the mountains but it’s the beating heart of the community, the place that sustains the inhabitants. Hauntingly beautiful storytelling, this story had me in tears by the end. A truly extraordinary and accomplished debut which is destined to become a future classic.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a gifted proof copy. ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is released on the 7th January and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, you can find your nearest one here.