Following the success of his first young adult historical novel Jock Logan and the Sea Devil, Brent Leslie’s latest offering, Hills of Gold is another richly-drawn historical novel for teens set in the turbulent industrial and political period of the early 1900s. Hills of Gold involves two parallel, yet interrelated stories. The first occurs in New Zealand at Waihi’s Martha mine at the time of the mining strikes and is the tale of likeable, hardworking fourteen-year-old Russell Cooper, forced to step into this father’s boots when he succumbs to pthisis. The second parallel story tells of Russell’s uncle, John Anderson, an expert mining engineer, employed in Russia by the British owners of the Lena Gold Mining Joint Stock Company to quell unrest amongst the Russian peasant mine workers, and was inspired by the life of John Robinson, a forebear of the author. With vocabulary and style appropriate of the day, and covering issues such as developments in women’s suffrage, the union movement, prohibition, even transport technology, Hills of Gold provides a colourful, and terrifyingly accurate, snapshot of the period. I expect history and social studies teachers will be grabbing for this novel as Leslie has a way of bringing the past to life, making Hills of Gold both an entertaining and provoking addition to the curriculum. Leslie is a wonderful story-teller: history should always be this fun.
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