Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

This is my little brother's favorite book ever (and his favorite author - I think he's read all of Marsden's books.) For years I've wanted to see what was so enticing, and finally this week I picked it up. I had recently bought another copy for my bf's tutorees, and I am in the midst of reading The Fatal Shore in which a historical figure named Marsden comes up a lot which kept popping this book back into my mind.

Ellie and her friends are about 16 and living in the bush (outback) mostly on ranches near a small town. The weekend of the county fair, six of the teens decide to go camping well outside of town in a mountain range called Tailor's Stitch, and try to get down into a gorge called Hell. They succeed in their hiking, eventually finding a path that makes them think the rumors about an accused murderer living as a hermit in Hell is probably true. Their last night, several of the kids see or hear scores of fighter jets flying overhead, but they assume that's to celebrate Commemoration Day. When they return home (Ellie's ranch is closest), they find everyone gone, the dogs dead, the livestock dying, the power out and no radio stations. Nervous, they go to the next teen's house and find the same situation. Now terrified, they come up with a plan to sneak into town, where they discover those were not Australian fighter jets, but Australia was invaded while they were gone. Their families are being held captive at the fairground. What do they do now?

This is a fantastic series for fans of The Hunger Games. It's narrated by a strong, tomboyish girl who'd rather ride horses than watch TV, which give the books a feel of timelessness (which is good - they were written in the early 1990s, so there are references to a Walkman, but otherwise they drive cars we still drive - like Landrovers - and so far other dated references have not at all jumped out at me except for the lack of cell phones.) She's with a somewhat motley crew, her best friend and her boyfriend, her best guy friend, her best friend from town who is much more girly and delicate, and a couple of more random kids. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and it's particularly interesting that the kid who seemed at school to be the biggest goof-off and slacker, really steps up and becomes the dominant leader most of the time with the group. They all pull together to make plans and be resourceful, but they are teens. Ellie is torn between two guys, and she acknowledges that thinking about which boy she wants to kiss int he midst of a war is somewhat baffling but also life-affirming.  The kids do act like kids, but they're also older teens who've mostly been given a lot of responsibility and tasks on their family cattle stations, so it's natural that they're not the type to freak out and just give up.

There are a lot of Australianisms - both in slang and in products (Ellie eats something called Rice Bubbles for breakfast that I think is like Rice Krispies) - but not so much that it would prevent an American reader from understanding what's going on. And it might be fun for American teens to pick up new slang. The book is incredibly exciting with great suspense and it was very hard for me to put down (I read it in two days). While it does resolve a lot at the end of the book, there's still an awful lot left open-ended , which means book 2 is now on my To Read list. Well-written, with convincing teenage voices and a likable group of teens fending for themselves in a terrible predicament, Tomorrow When the War Began should have a wider audience in the U.S. If you know a teen who likes post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels, put this book in their hand now.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Review!