Surfing through minefields

Bel Roberts’ exciting novel for young adults.

Lauren, a fifteen year old English schoolgirl, is forced to stay with her grandmother in Wales when there are problems at home in Kent. The only link attaching her to home is her playful Jack Russell terrier pup called Flea Bag. He acts as her soul mate and comfort blanket.

Lauren enrols for a month in the local comprehensive school in order to pursue her GCSE studies. At once, she arouses the antagonism of a member of staff and suffers verbal abuse from several classmates, partly because she befriends and defends fellow victims at the school. She also develops a serious crush on an attractive but disturbed senior pupil, Justin.

The cauldron of adolescence simmering away behind school gates is an on-going part of the narrative. Lauren’s form teacher and History master, Mr Hill, keeps order by shooting down any overt ‘smart Alecs’ with good-humoured, no-nonsense wisecracks.  He also inspires Lauren to choose a History project, the subject of which is the other important part of the narrative and the inspiration for the book’s dedication:  the victims and families of the 1913 explosion at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, in which over four hundred men and boys died.  These two threads of the story, both illustrating basic injustice, reverberate and overlap throughout the novel.

The immoral mistreatment of the Senghenydd miners by a class of early twentieth century capitalist pit owners and managers emerges in the historical evidence unearthed by Lauren, as she works on her project. Some of the evidence is personal, related by her great-grandmother and nonagenarian, Sid Chapman, when Lauren seeks their help and establishes a rapport with them. Even more significant perhaps is the awakening of Lauren’s political and social conscience during her short time in Wales, causing her to reflect on her own privileged life and to question her parents’ moral standards.

This book is a study of human dynamics operating on several levels and spanning a century. It informs readers about a significant historical event and is written in a language and style that teenagers and adults will enjoy. It is both educational and entertaining.

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