Title: Tomorrow, When the War Began
Author: John Marsden
Genre: YA dystopian fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Suzi Dougherty
First line: It’s only half an hour since someone – Robyn I think – said we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.
When I read a positive review of a YA novel on a blog, I always click over to my library web site and see if they have it on audio. I’ve found that YA is a perfect genre on audio for my workouts at the gym – it gets into the story quickly and is usually less than 10 CDs long. I saw John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began on a list of dystopian novels and I was in luck – the library had it on audio. It was a terrific listen and perfect for pedaling the bike at the gym, as the action kept moving right along and the narrator was engaging.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is the story of seven high schoolers on their Christmas holiday from school. They decide to “go bush” for five days, heading in a Land Rover up Taylor’s Stitch, then hiking into Hell, a deserted wilderness rumored to be the home of a murderous hermit. Ellie is our narrator, and she tells the story of the camping trip, a fun, relaxed time – until hundreds of airplanes fly overhead and disturb the peace. Ellie and her friends convince themselves that the airplanes must somehow be related to Commemoration Day, the national holiday that their families were all celebrating while they were gone. Someone does make a joke about World War III possibly happening while they were oblivious in the wilderness, but no one takes it seriously.
When they return from the bush, though, they find their houses deserted, their pets dead, no power, no telephones. They then realize that the joke was all too true. As they adjust to their new reality, the group must decide what to do: will they stay in the bush, returning to town only to stock up on supplies – or will they fight?
Marsden is especially adept at writing characters. The seven teenagers all have unique personalities, and the combination of personalities make for interesting chemistry – both romantic and otherwise. We see each of the people through Ellie’s eyes – and she does a wonderful job of describing pre-war versus post-war personalities. Each person undergoes a huge transformation – and each one has to decide for themselves what their boundaries are. When is theft okay? How far can you go to defend yourself, your family, your country? At what point in a war do you lose part of yourself? I became fascinated by Ellie’s thought processes, as she struggles to define what her role is in this new world. I would get lost in the story of the war and the heavy issues, and then be suddenly reminded – by a budding romance, for instance – that these characters are only teenagers.
I am very much looking forward to the rest of the books in this series. I only wish my library had them all on audio.
Sidenote: I have discovered this year that I love dystopian fiction. I don’t know why – it’s not the most cheerful of genres. There’s something about exploring our possible futures that I find fascinating. Uglies, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Gone – I have discovered some wonderful YA novels in this genre, and they are the kind of books that grip you from the start and don’t let go until you finish.