The Valley of Lost Secrets is a beautifully evocative historical mystery, set in a mining community in the Welsh Valleys at the onset of the Second World War, both heart-breaking and heart-warming, and written with such quality that it effortlessly transported me back to this era and into the lives of this community and its new residents.
At the start of the Second World War, Jimmy Travers and his younger brother Ronnie are evacuated from London to the village of LLanbryn in Wales. They are hosted by the kind-hearted Gwen and Alun Thomas who are ever patient and give the boys the space they need in order to settle into this new life. Whilst young Ronnie settles quickly to his new family and life, Jimmy finds it much more difficult and feels that he doesn’t belong. He feels a huge weight of responsibility in caring for his younger brother, and keeps his host family at an emotional distance. He feels like an outsider, struggling to adapt to this new life in this strange place, and my heart went out to him.
Other children have been evacuated alongside the Travers brothers and it is not long before they meet classmate Florence and Jimmy’s best friend, Duff. The exploration of how others influence us is clearly shown in the way these two have changed since coming to Wales. Florence has been placed with a local shopkeeper and her son, Ieuan, who take good care of her, whilst Duff is influenced by the local vicar’s son and his friends who are terrible bullies. Jimmy’s friendship with Duff is a broken one which leads to him forming new, unexpected friendships elsewhere.
When Jimmy finds himself exploring on his own, he finds a skull hidden in a tree trunk. This discovery leads him, and his new friends, on a path to solving a mystery that has affected the community for many years, one that leads to the disclosure of past secrets and an opportunity for healing.
The changing relationships between the evacuated children themselves and their hosts is wonderfully portrayed as time allows the building of trust, and tentative friendships the space to grow and flourish. I adored the friendship which develops between Florence and Jimmy, and the kindness and care with which she takes Ronnie under her wing. It is clear that Florence was an outsider at school and treated horribly but, as she opens up more to Jimmy, he begins to understand more about her life in London. Florence is an incredibly sympathetic and gutsy character who has had to deal with a lot in her young life, yet grasps the opportunities and fresh start given to her with both hands.
I loved the unravelling of the mystery in this story which was cleverly interwoven with brotherhood, healing and community. A heartfelt story of having the courage to trust, having the strength to open your heart to others despite past hurt, and of brotherhood, family and friendship. This is a story that deserves to become a children’s classic, and is one I will definitely be recommending in school.
Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. I have now bought a copy and was lucky enough to have the author send me a signed bookplate dedicated to my class.