Reviews /

Where the River Takes Us

Authored by Lesley Parr
Illustrated by David Dean
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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Where the River Takes Us: Set in the Welsh valleys in 1974, Lesley Parr’s latest adventure sees four friends on a mission to find ‘the beast of Blaengarw’ and in doing so, get a much-needed cash reward. Times are hard and money is tight, three day weeks and blackouts are the norm and there is a sense of unrest both socially and industrially as families struggle with the bleak economic picture at that time.

The main character is Jason, who lives with his older brother Richie, after their parents passed away. Richie just wants to provide for his brother and keep the family together. He then takes on some underhand activity in order to help keep a roof over their heads which takes the boys down a difficult path.

Jason feels compelled to help his brother and so sets out to get the cash reward and help the household finances. But, of course, he doesn’t go alone. His best friends, Catrin, Tam and Jinx are all in on the plan. The children meet on the bridge and head out of Ponty, following the river towards Blaengarw. The trip is full of jeopardy and problems but also fun and laughter. There are bulls to avoid, sleeping bags and maps are lost but importantly, friendships are forged (over a crisp sandwich or two).

The power of friendship and the kindness of strangers are key themes but also the role of the community in supporting the brothers through this tough time. For Jason, the trip feels symbolic in terms of how he is dealing with his grief and anger. His relationship with his friends is solidified and he and his brother come closer than ever.

As a child of the 70s brought up in a Welsh valley I truly felt at home in the words of this book. The use of colloquial language felt authentic and added to the atmosphere and tone of the text. The characters felt like friends and families that I knew. Their values and morals felt real and understood.

Fans of Lesley Parr’s first two books will not be disappointed by her latest work. The themes of friendship, family, friends who are family, heartache and loss as well as the true power of a community are central to the story. I would whole heartedly recommend this book for all upper KS2 readers and for those with a love of historical fiction.