This wasn’t the book that I was expecting to review today but Dear Edward is taking a long time. I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional weight of that book. So, I started listening to this book at work. I’d had a copy of it on my shelves for a while. I can’t actually remember when I got it but it must have been when I was going through my middle grade phase. I bought a lot of kid’s books in 2020 and at the start of 2021 but never read them. It seemed like a good thing to get me through my day at work.
I used to love reading historical stories when I was younger, so I was excited to pick this one up. It’s a great way to get children excited about history because it allows them to connect with the period. The Valley of Lost Secrets is set during World War 2 and the evacuation of a group of children from London. The children arrive in the Welsh valleys with no real idea what’s going to happen. Brothers Jimmy and Ronnie soon find themselves in the middle of a mystery. Can they find the answer? And will they be able to do so without causing too much chaos in their temporary home?
The most important thing for a story like this is the characters. They need to feel realistic for the time without alienating modern readers. I think Ronnie is a great main character and plenty of younger readers will empathise with him. He struggles with the evacuation process and avoids getting too close to his new guardians. No matter how hard Mr and Mrs Thomas try to connect with him, Ronnie is stubborn. He misses his father and won’t accept any substitutes. He just wants to go home. A sentiment that anyone would be able to understand.
His relationship with his younger brother Ronnie also feels realistic. Jimmy loves and cares about Ronnie but he is also frustrated by him. Ronnie adapts to their new life quickly. This leads to a lot of great interaction between the two. It’s a lot of fun but there is plenty of emotional depth here too. The characters are the standout of this whole book. Along with the brothers, we meet a few of their fellow evacuees and their new neighbours. Each of these characters are well written and add something great to the story.
In terms of the story itself, it’s a fast-paced adventure, which is great but I do think it could have slowed down a little. It could have done with a beat or two for the emotions to come through. I understand that Lesley Parr wanted to keep her readers engaged and excited. However, some big moments just seem a bit rushed to me. It deals with some big topics that could have prompted further discussion if more time was given to them. There was more than enough potential for this to be a contemporary Goodnight Mister Tom but it does lack that real emotional kick.
That’s not to say that this isn’t a great book. It is an exciting and fun book. It will inspire plenty of young people to find out more about evacuations and they will enjoy solving the mystery. I would recommend the audiobook because the narrator brings the story to life. His accents are great and his characterisation was spot on. It’s another of those books that I wish I could have read when I was a kid.