Where The River Takes Us
320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
Wales, February 1974. The coal miners are on strike for better pay and conditions, and energy rationing is enforced with power to homes and businesses only being allowed at certain times of the day, and thus many businesses are working on a three-day week. It’s winter, it’s wet and cold. And to add to this misery, in a small village 13-year-old Jason and 18-year-old Richie are grieving the death of their parents in a car accident while struggling to stay together in their family home. The mortgage is due again on March 1 but there will be no celebration for St David’s Day this year because Richie’s wages just aren’t enough.
When Jason learns how Richie has been tricked into making some extra money on the side, he is terrified his brother will end up in prison and they will be separated, regardless, and so when he learns about a reward being offered for proof of the existence of a wild beast roaming nearby mountains, it seems like a lifeline worth pursuing at all costs. An idea is born and a quest begun. With his best friends Jinx, Tam and Catrin, he sets off on adventure following the river up into the high country, determined to be the first to photograph the Beast with the camera Catrin has “borrowed” from her father. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt as they are dogged by their arch-enemies Gary and Dean, and so the trip is made even more hazardous…
Underpinned by the bonds between the four children, this is a brilliant, fresh, original story that kept me reading until I finished. While the lure of the £100 reward which they have agreed will be used to pay the boys’ mortgage. is the carrot that keeps them going physically, it is as much an emotional journey for each of them as they learn so much about themselves, about each other and about the power of friendship and the complexity of grief. Unbreakable ties are forged that will exist regardless of the outcome of the quest, while both Jason and Richie begin to accept that they are not alone and it’s okay to let others in for support and guidance.
Like The Valley of Lost Secrets, (the first chapter of which is included at the end), this is a superbly crafted story built on the interactions between the key characters – ordinary kids doing something as ordinary as an overnight camping trip in the school holidays, but who find themselves learning more than they ever imagined. When questioned about what they are doing, rather than divulge their hunt for the Beast in case others are too, Catrin refers to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, one often associated with outdoor adventure, but if the reader examines the full purpose of it – “to explore their full potential and find their purpose, passion and place in the world, regardless of their location or circumstance” – then perhaps that’s exactly what they did, just without the formality.
Independent readers who like authentic stories with real body will adore this, as will class teachers looking for an absorbing read-aloud that will hook the entire class.
In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting a copy of When the War Came Home because Lesley Parr is becoming a name I am always going to look for.