Lesley Parr, Where the River Takes Us, Bloomsbury, April 2023, 320 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781526647771
This is described as a historical novel and, for the early teenage reader, it is. It is set in Wales, in 1974, during the time of the divisive and devastating miners’ strikes.
Jason and his brother are having to manage on their own as their parents are dead, having been killed in an accident. They are struggling with their grief and the poverty that comes from the loss of work during the strike. Money is a constant worry for them so, when a reward is offered for an authenticated photograph of a big cat roaming the valley near where the brothers live, Jason and his friends decide to try to win the reward.
They embark on a kind of quest. It follows the classic pattern of departure, journey, challenges, personal growth, and return. The reward Jason receives, however, is not, for example, money, but the comfort of allowing Aunty Pearl to come and help the two boys cope with the struggles they have been encountering.
On their journey to try to find the cat, Jason and his friends encounter a large bull in a field that they have to cross. They are constantly competing on their journey with two of the bullies from school. They have challenges of losing their food, the difficulties of finding somewhere to sleep – once having to sleep inside a church, something they find rather frightening, losing their map and finding their way. Throughout the journey, Catrin, the only girl in the group, shows great leadership and wins the trust and admiration of one of Jason’s friends who had previously objected to her presence on the expedition. Jason actually does see the big cat when he goes out by himself from the campsite one evening. He is so taken with the magnificence of the animal that he has a kind of epiphany and persuades the others to call off the search and return home.
The Welsh countryside is an integral part of the narrative and there are occasional Welsh spellings and words that add authenticity to the story. This is a gentle kind of adventure that celebrates friendship and loyalty.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel