Tomorrow, When The War Began – John Marsden – 7/10

“None of us wants to end up as a pile of dead white bones, unnoticed, unknown, and worst of all, with no one knowing or appreciating the risks we’ve run.”

John Marsden’s Tomorrow series comes heavily recommended by Mini-Me and several of our cousins, including TNLRC. A movie was made last year and the books are now set reading in a number of Australian high schools. I can tell why – it’s Lord of the Flies, but happier, and more Australian. I have to admit I was not captivated the way I expected to be (too much hype?) but I can see the quality of this for a teenage audience, particularly an Australian one.

The principle is a simple one: Ellie and her friends remove themselves from civilisation for a few days on a bush adventure and come back to find their world changed – homes abandoned, working animals dying, and a total lack of power or communications. After a number of incidents in the town as they gather supplies and run across soldier patrols, they return to their bush hideout to take stock and survive; a retaliatory strike by the group results has dangerous consequences.

I was surprised and confused by the use of gender in this novel – for a start, I was surprised to find a book written by a man and set in a pseudo post apocalyptic world narrated by a girl. Ellie isn’t overly feminine (although two of the other female characters are very girly girls) but Marsden has captured a special character – much like Lyra in Northern Lights. Conversely, I was unconvinced by Kevin, who seemed quite weak as a character. I understood Marsden’s intentions to make Homer the leader, the one with the life intelligence even though everyone thinks he’s not got much between his ears, but it was a little overdone – his strategic knowledge is a little too good, too quickly. He tells the group to choose different rooms when a house is being searched by helicopter, so that they will have a 360 degree view as a group – really? On film it made more sense, but I still felt it was a little wise beyond his years.

On the other hand, I felt that the plot and setting were very well done. Marsden has chosen (wisely) a simple, familiar setting (well, familiar to Australians!) and made a disaster scenario which requires little exposition. One day everything is normal, when the group comes back their world has changed. While certain scenes (particularly the incredible claw-lift truck incident) run high on adrenaline and not so much on character, the book is much more about the intra-group dynamic and major character development than it is about an invasion of a peaceful and highly desirable country.

Having watched the film a few nights ago, I would recommend both or either as good “disaster” novels which are fairly light on the disaster but examine the emotions and relationships between 8 fairly normal teenagers under stress. The characters appear more real, more fragile and flawed, and both Kevin and Homer, with whose characterisation I have taken issue above, were much more credible.

Well worth a read, particularly if Lord of the Flies put you off in school.

Additional info:
This was borrowed from Mini-Me.
Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia, 284 pages (paperback)
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3 thoughts on “Tomorrow, When The War Began – John Marsden – 7/10

  1. Chelsea 3 March 2012 at 8:22 pm Reply

    One of the things that turns me off the most in reading disaster/post-apocalyptic novels is that there always seems to be one character who is, like, ‘Never fear, all! I can hunt and make traps and build a tent with my shoelace, even though I’m a 45 year old CPA from Los Angeles” and its just off-putting. Not that this is what’s happening here, but I’m getting just a slight hint of that flavor from your post!

    • readingwithtea 5 March 2012 at 12:48 pm Reply

      It was just a slight hint – it didn’t happen often but every now and again there was just a bit of a “really? he can really do that? with no prior experience?”

  2. [...] his superior charm, world wisdom and general all-round goodness, to be her protagonist – the Ellie Linton of Panem. Harry Potter had failings but wasn’t really aware of them. Bella… well we all [...]

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