Tomorrow, When the War Began

In light of the first book from Australian writer John Marsden’s Young Adult series Tomorrow, When the War Began being made into a movie, I recently took the time to reread it. My review of the movie, if I ever get to see it, will follow. For the sake of clarity – ‘Tomorrow‘ refers to the titular book and ‘the Tomorrow series’ refers to the seven-book series as a whole.

It actually wasn’t as good reading as when I was a teenager; either it didn’t grab me the way Anne of Green Gables did, or it’s not one of those YA books that really transcends age. At any rate, it’s still quite a good read. It follows the lives of a group of teenagers, led by Ellie Linton, who narrates the series. And honestly? Kudos to Marsden for capturing what sounded like a realistic teenage girl’s voice. Anyway, they’re all country people – the most sophisticated of them, Fiona, from the sounds of it lives in the town that services the farms as opposed to a farm itself. Seven of them (an eighth, Chris, joins them later in the first book) go on a camping trip to a highly secluded, hard-to-reach spot – so much so that they could very well have been the only humans to ever find it. The spot is, as a foreboding, called Hell. They’re so off-the-radar that they’re completely oblivious to the fact while they were away, some nameless country (Marsden has never said) invades Australia. Ellie and her mates return to find the family farms abandoned, the power cut, the animals dying, and they gradually work out what happened.

And so, with Chris having joined up with them and forming a group of eight, they become an ad-hoc militia of sorts. There’s no real ‘leader’, although since Ellie narrates, the story is told from her perspective. By the end of the first book, Ellie and Fiona, with planning from the others, have managed to blow up a bridge that’s key to the enemy’s success.

There were some things I didn’t like about the book – namely, that six of the eight of them have formed into cosy heterosexual couples, with Ellie wishing that the other two would fall for each other, making them ‘Perfect Partners’. Having said that, I did like that a virgin Ellie expressed nervousness and insecurity about sex while still having a natural curiosity about it. And from memory of future books, when she and her boyfriend Lee start having sex, it’s portrayed as a natural thing between two people with a very close bond.

All that aside – Tomorrow features a main cast of eight; four girls, four boys. So far, they all feature pretty distinct personalities, although the fact that Corrie, one of the girls, is, IMHO, the most indistinct seems to be a foreshadowing of the fact she dies at the end of Tomorrow. Ellie muses that the others, including the other two girls, Fi and Robyn, are capable of rising up to the occasion when needed; Fi is a total princess who nonetheless learns to be handy and Robyn and Christian who comes to accept the need for killing and violence. The girls talk to the girls, the boys talk to the boys, the girls and boys talk to each other about every subject under the sun. (OK, so it’s mostly the war, their families, their lives before the war, and other members of the group, in both platonic and romantic terms.) I spoke in my McLeod’s Daughter’s article that that’s the take on the Bechdel test I’d like to see, and I think Marsden deserves kudos for managing that.

I didn’t get hugely into the Tomorrow series when I was a teenager – impatient reader that I am, I can only read a series if it’s already been published in its entirety, and had gotten bored waiting by about book five – and now it doesn’t feel like one of those YA series that appeals to a broad range of ages. But I remember, as a teenager, liking the fact that Ellie and her friends, including other girls, could hold their own in guerrilla/militia warfare (or any kind of warfare). And as an adult who’s spent six months of ploughing through Jodi Picoult, it’s a pleasure to rediscover these girls who can hold their own in warfare. The book might not have hugely grabbed me, but Ellie Linton and co certainly did.


  1. KLee says

    I haven’t read this series yet but its on my ‘to read’ list. But it brings to mind other much older YA apocalyptic/society destruction stories that in the past I thought were wonderful examples of “girl power.” The reflective nature of your review, reading it when younger versus now, makes me think that it would be interesting to go back with my old favorites to see if they hold up. Only one is clear enough to say yes, “mind call” by wilanne schneider beldon which is of course out of print.

    Thanks for the interesting reading. I might move this up on my list just out of curiosity. Of course, I’m left to wonder if in the movie version the fairly egalitarian (so it seems from your review) presentation of girls and boys will hold up. Will they retain the focus on Ellie as narrator? (in similar vein, i keep meaning to read ‘city of ember’ to compare with the recent film that I greatly enjoyed).

    (books I’m thinking of:
    The Girl who Owned a City -O.T. Nelson
    Invitation to the Game -monica hughes (soon to be reissued as ‘the game’)
    several by Louise Lawrence
    HM Hoover: this time of darkness, children of/treasures of morrow)

  2. Scarlett says

    Well from what I see of the trailer, it’s still narrated by Ellie, and she still gets together with Lee (who is still Asian.) I’ve been told the adaptation is fairly faithful. I’m interested in what they do with Fi, as the princess, and Robyn, as the Christian, because they’re two traits that have been stereotyped to death.

    In regards to former reading v current reading: as I said, I don’t like having to wait for books. I didn’t read Harry Potter until about a year ago so I could read them all in one hit. I think that’s why I got bored in the first place and couldn’t get back into it the same way others I know love the series as adults. I think also, having studied history a lot since reading it for the first time, i find the basic concept even more plausible. Countries are rarely worth invading, even when they have a lot of wealth. Throw in a large, largely inhospitable geography into that and – well, take note of the fact that hardly anyone’s managed to conquer Russia and nobody held onto it :p

    Although something that comes to mind is that there’s a debate over the morality of small, densely populated countries like India and Indonesia packed in like sardines with a fair bit of poverty, eyeing off a semi-neighbouring country that’s large, sparsely populated and wealthy; it creates a culture of resentment – how come they have so much for so few while we have so little for so many? (Australia is apparantly the richest country/capita in the world, at least hypothetically speaking, because of natural resources.) They quickly decide that it’s sad, but so what, it’s our country but I did like that they at least brought up the uneven distribution of wealth and how much less wealthy countries might be resentful for being poorer for no better reason than geography.

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