Remember when you used to imagine as a kid what would happen if a war started and you weren’t there for it? No one else, just me? What if you were away and your parents disappeared? Like that Jimmy Neutron movie, where the kids think it’s amazing their parents have gone until they find out it’s a more serious situation than originally thought? Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden explores this, taking a group of high school kids and throwing them into the middle of a war that puts them, their families and everyone they know at risk of losing everything they have, their lives included. A young adult novel, this book starts us on the journey of Marsden’s adrenaline pumping Tomorrow series.
It begins with Ellie, the protagonist, writing about how she has been chosen by her group of friends to write about their experiences. What she will write will be their account of what happened. Something for people to read and understand the events from their perspective. There is no mention of a war. There is no mention as to what event has led her to write this. All we know is that something serious is happening. There is a lot of emphasis about how Ellie’s friends were before something happened. There is happiness with the sense of impending doom, and the only way we’re going to find out more is if we continue to read Ellie’s recounts.
Soon, we are transported back to before whatever it is that’s happening (great description, I know). A time filled with wonder and laughter. Ellie and her best friend Corrie are planning a camping trip to mark their final year of high school. It’s meant to be a celebration to becoming adults and getting to this point. Their mystified over the idea of inviting boys and giggle about the possibilities.
By the end of all their planning, they have seven people heading away with them: Ellie, Corrie, Kevin (Corrie’s boyfriend), Homer, Fiona (or Fi), Lee and Robyn. Their possible eighth member, Chris, is unable to come due to house-sitting commitments.
It all seems like a dream. All this responsibility with no adults to tell them what to do. Ellie drives her dads landrover up to Tailor's Stitch that leads them to Satan’s Steps, the entrance to their camping destination, Hell. After some issues getting down to Hell (sounds odd, doesn’t it?), the group find their perfect camping ground and begin relaxing. They munch on their unhealthy snacks, bush walk, step in the little bit of river that passes through, deal with an intruding snake, and enjoy each other’s company.
It’s on one night during this time when Ellie notices rows and rows of fighter jets and planes flying above them with no lights on. She suspects it’s to do with the fair at the showgrounds that’s on, like an air show. They start coming up with innocent jokes about what it would be like if the whole country is at war and they have no idea because they’re so secluded in Hell. It’s all a joke, until they go back home and find that it’s not at all a joke but reality.
They go guerrilla, staying within shadows to not be detected to try and figure out what is going on. It's not long when they find out the severity of the situation. Yes, these people who are attacking are human beings like you and I but they are causing chaos. They are thrown into a fight for survival. This wasn't their choice. It was chance, and it'll be chance from here on out.
Join Ellie and her friends as they fight a battle bigger than they could ever have imagined. Step into the first instalment of this young adult war story. Allow yourself to be encapsulated by the Australian outback in the midst of a brutal war and ask yourself the question: would you fight for your country, even if it feels like your the only one?
What I thought
This is not the first time I have read this series. I first encountered it in primary school when we were focussing on Australian authors. We only needed to read Tomorrow, When the War Began (mostly because the themes got heavier in the second and they couldn't let children of 12 or 13 read it) and it still sits deep within my mind. I loved the action, the raw emotion and the authentic reactions of teenagers in high school. No, I wasn't in high school yet, but I was 13 so, you know, basically grown up (or so I thought... God, puberty hits hard).
Picking this book up and reading it again at the age that I am now, I am astounded by the amount I missed and what I didn't understand or took the wrong way. The raw emotions are still there but I didn't quite understand how extremely well written, authentic and relatable they were. The characterisation is astoundingly well done, and it is really highlighted in this book how powerful the written word can be.
As I mentioned earlier, the book is written as if Ellie is writing a letter or journal about what is happening. She is recounting events to be like a reference to anyone who reads it after the war. This means it's written all in the first person with a very personal view. However, the descriptions of the characters and how Ellie interprets their actions is so true to how others would react that I (and I assume others) connect with her on such a deep level. Then, when things get particularly hectic (no spoilers!), her outlook changes to provide us an insight into a turn in life that not many would experience. It is so believable and I could go on forever about it.
There are a lot of life lessons that can be learnt in this story. There are also a lot of scenes that raise questions for the reader to think what they would do in those situations. Ultimately, we begin to wonder what our roles would be if we were at war and how we would react. Would we change to be leaders like Homer? Would we still have our strong faith like Robyn? Would we make a deadly decision for the safety of our friends?
I would recommend this story to people 12-years-old and up. Yes, there are some 'adulty' themes in it, but after my experience it's not imperative to understand it all. However, whether you're 12 or 83, reading this book will provide a whole new perspective on life. It shows how ignorant we are to believe we are safe. It highlights how quickly situations can develop.
As Ellie puts it on page 107:
'But I've learnt something now. Corrie, we were still innocent. Right up to yesterday. We didn't believe in Santa Clause but we believed in other fantasies. You said it. You said the big one. We believe we were safe. That was the big fantasy.'
Definitely check this book out if you're interested in reading about war, conflict or even if you're interested in young adult fiction with a touch of romance, teen angst and self discovery.
What do you think of the first instalment in John Marsden's Tomorrow series? Let me know in the comments!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.