Tomorrow When the War Began
Books I Loved Best Yearly (BILBY) Awards for Older Readers (1998)
West Australian Young Readers' Book Award (WAYRBA) for Older Readers (1995)
I remember John Marsden (The Tomorrow Series) for two things. One: he is the only person, who upon meeting me, has ever asked about my name in this fashion: “why did your parents call you that?” Eloquent, Mr. Marsden, very eloquent. And, terrible phrasing aside, two: he is brilliant at writing in the voice of a teenage girl.
Letters from the Inside, Dear Miffy, So Much to Tell You and most famously The Tomorrow series that began with Tomorrow When the War Began are all narrated by strong, fiercely independent (definitely damaged) young women and Marsden captures them perfectly. His books were my go to when I was younger and now, as I finish my most recent re-read of Tomorrow When the War Began, I appreciate them even more.
The series is set in Australia, Marsden’s home country, and is about Ellie and her teenage friends who go on a camping trip. While out in the middle of nowhere, they hear what sounds like hundreds of aircraft flying overhead. When they head back home they realize that no one is around. Ellie’s home is completely empty and her parents are nowhere to be seen. Her best friend’s house is exactly the same and his dog is dead. Something is wrong. Very wrong.
They have been invaded and everyone in their town has been rounded up and are being kept hostage at the fairgrounds. Ellie and her friends seem to be the only ones still free and now need to stay safe and stay alive.
What happens in Tomorrow When The War Began is scarily plausible. It isn’t set in some dystopian world where a crazy despot is ruling from his throne made of children’s tears. It is set in the world we know. The characters could be that kid you go to school with, your neighbor or, hell, it could be you!
The invasion itself is swift, well-organized and undertaken by a completely faceless enemy. The response and retaliation attempts that Ellie and her friends make are entirely believable as well as utterly extraordinary. Their first attack consists of blowing up a lawn-mower. Later ones include blowing up a bridge using fertilizer bombs and driving a heavy duty rubbish truck through town with one of their friends hiding in the back as bullets rebound off his metal shield.
Marsden accompanies this action with plenty of emotion; the leading characters are all teenagers after all. They’re worried, they miss their parents, they make some bad decisions and they’re constantly scared shitless by what is happening around them. I mean, yeah, they are mainly skillful, independent farm kids but that doesn’t mean that they are entirely fearless. They are vulnerable, terrified and very much alone.
It’s the realness and the grittiness that makes The Tomorrow series so fantastic. I say series, but I must admit books 6 and 7 are quite slow and lose the spark that books 1 to 5 have. Extra characters get added which I personally never had the same attachment to and the action gets a little repetitive.
Of all of Ellie’s friends, my heart will always be with Robyn. She is the sweet, kind, peace-maker who would sacrifice anything if it means the safety of the group. She is the magnificent voice of reason to Ellie’s cunning, slightly sociopathic mind. She keeps the group quietly in check and she does it in a very quiet, unassuming manner.
Each of Marsden’s characters has some major flaws, but that’s what makes them all so relatable. It’s their motives, their emotions and their choice-making that compels you to keep reading. The action is an added bonus, but the characters make Tomorrow When the War Began.