When seventeen year-old Ellie Linton decides to “go bush” with her school friends for a final adventure before going back to school and leaves her home town of Wirrawee behind, she can’t know that she is also leaving life as she knows it behind. While the seven friends are having fun in an isolated idyllic spot deep in the countryside, things back home are dramatically and drastically changing. When they finally return home, they soon realise things aren’t right: power has been cut, pets and livestock have been left to die in the heat, and everybody has vanished. The friends then discover that their town, and most likely their country, has been invaded by hostile forces. But the teenagers are not about to accept this new situation without putting up a fight, and so begins the fight against their mysterious enemy.
I knew nothing of this series, originally published in the early 1990s, and its writer, John Marsden, until this was brought to my attention by Niamh from Quercus. Tomorrow When the War Began is the first of a series of seven books known as the Tomorrow Series and have been extremely popular in the author’s native Australia; it is easy to see why as this is a fantastic book! The story is told by Ellie and Marsden is spot on in his style and tone to mirror a teenage girl’s narration. There are some very action-packed moments in there that certainly had me at the edge of my seat; the book is not without violence but it is never gratuitous. I think some might think that there is very little happening at the beginning of the story, while the group are out in their little bit of paradise but I think that on the contrary it works particularly well, as it helps to emphasise, through contrast, the action and the darkness once they are back in Wirrawee.
But Tomorrow When the War Began ‘s strength is in its portrayal of the protagonists’ transformation from carefree teenagers to assertive resistance organisers. Many serious themes and issues are dealt with in this story: love, loyalty, bravery, sacrifice. But unlike many teen action and adventure stories, while reading Tomorrow When the War began, you never once pause, thinking “that would never happen”. It all feels really possible, and, scarily, very real. The readers are also left to question their reactions if they were ever faced by a similar situation: would you give yourself up so you can see your family again? Would you fight? Would you, even, sacrifice yourself to help others?
These teenagers, and particularly Ellie and Homer, are truly inspirational characters that I hope many teens will find them as enlightening as I did. There are some moments where they, thankfully, experience some “normal” teen feelings and situations, specifically related to love and relationships. They are just a great bunch of kids!
This is a fantastically entertaining story which will not leave you unfazed and will certainly leave you wanting more. I can’t wait for book two, The Dead of the Night, to be published!
Sent for review by publisher
A brand-new film adaptation of the book has just come out; here is a sneak peek (BEWARE, this trailer includes many storyline spoilers ) :