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  • John Evans

A Must-Read Debut: Rachel Dawson's 'Neon Roses' Shines with Heart and History

Neon Roses, the remarkable debut novel by Rachel Dawson, has been making waves across the South Wales scene, and unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, chances are you've already heard about it. This heartwarming and poignant coming-of-age tale is set in the picturesque South Wales valleys, with captivating backdrops in Cardiff, London, and Manchester. The story revolves around Eluned Hughes, a young woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when the fundraising group Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners profoundly impacts her village. Drawing inspiration from the intriguing, lesser-known history of the strike and the extraordinary alliance formed between the LGBTQ+ community and the miners, Dawson, a native of Swansea now residing in Cardiff, skillfully delves into that era's political and social dynamics for her impressive debut novel.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is its emphasis on community and the power of solidarity. The novel powerfully underscores the significance of unity in the face of societal prejudice. As the story unfolds, the themes of resilience and togetherness organically weave together, reflecting Dawson's thoughtful intentions behind incorporating these elements. Dawson's attention to detail and historical research shines through, as she paints a vivid picture of the hardships faced by the Welsh communities during this challenging time in history. Through meticulous research, including visits to archives and personal interviews, Dawson infuses authenticity into every aspect of the story, providing readers with a genuine and immersive experience. Eluned's journey toward embracing her queer identity is paralleled by the growth of bonds and friendships within the LGBTQ+ community, fostering an uplifting narrative that celebrates the beauty of human connection.

In the book, the tapestry of national identity is intricately interwoven, as Dawson draws from her own Welsh experiences to infuse the narrative with an authentic sense of place and culture. She openly acknowledges that there are a lot of her own experiences of being Welsh in it, reflecting her personal connection to the story. Throughout the novel, there is a dedicated effort to portray Welsh characters as heroic and dignified, inspired by the impact of the film Pride (2014). The film's depiction of inspiring characters resonated with Dawson she revealed, motivating her to craft a narrative where Welsh characters shine as courageous and admirable figures, going beyond mere comic relief. Moreover, Neon Roses unveils the profound impact of music in shaping personal experiences and the cultural ambience of the 1980s. Dawson's affection for 80s music shines through, a sentiment inherited from her mother, as the novel beautifully illustrates the role of music in capturing the essence of that era.

Neon Roses is an engaging and uplifting novel that beautifully blends history, identity, and queer experiences. By unearthing forgotten histories and celebrating the importance of community and solidarity, the book leaves a heartfelt impression on readers, reminding us all of the strength that lies in unity. Dawson's artful storytelling and genuine representation of queer lives make Neon Roses a must-read for those seeking a heartwarming journey of self-discovery and the triumph of the human spirit.



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