Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993), The Dead of Night (1994), The Third Day, the Frost (1995), Darkness Be My Friend (1996), Burning for Revenge (1997), The Night is for Hunting (1998) and The Other Side of Dawn (1999).
Published by Pan MacMillan (Australia); Scholastic (US)
It’s terribly, terribly important. Recording what we’ve done, in words, on paper, it’s got to be our way of telling ourselves that we mean something, that we matter. That the things we’ve done have made a difference.
— Ellie, Tomorrow, When the War Began
Made into a Major Motion Picture back in 2010, John Marsden’s 1993 Young Adult novel Tomorrow, When the War Began — along with the remaining books in his incredible Tomorrow Series — is a book redolent with awesome kick-ass chickery. From daring Ellie to stalwart Robyn to gentle Corrie and delicate Fi, they all show themselves tempered, but not entirely hardened, by the horrors they must face.
And did I mention Ellie just rules?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To explain: In Tomorrow, When the War Began, a group of teenagers are on a camping trip in the Australian bush. They have a good time, they’re wild and care-free, worried only about the imminent start of school and the usual boy/girl stuff. They come back from their adventure in a secluded canyon called Hell to find their homes deserted, they’re families held prisoner, and their country invaded…
And if you’re Australian — a modern day, non-indigenous Australian — then that is a concept difficult to imagine. Us Anglo-Celtic types, we’re used to being the invaders. Our ancestors came to establish a penal colony here and ended up subduing the existing Aboriginal population and stuff. And by “stuff” I mean massacres, rapes and slavery. Oh, yeah, it’s a proud history. Many would argue that similar travesties of justice and humanity are going on here still, but that is a matter for political debate, and since this is a series of books that is considered “Young Adult,” it’s just not… well, actually, yes, it is pertinent. ‘Cause the lesson of these books is: it could happen to you.
We are told the tale through the painfully honest voice of country-bred Ellie, a sixteen year-old sheep cockie (translation: rancher’s kid) who lives with her parents in the not-entirely-fictional rural town of Wirrawee. She and her friends were so deep into the bush as to have evaded capture by the soldiers from an unnamed, presumably South Asian, nation who have sought to redress the inequality of property division in the region (Australia’s really big) by conquering most of the land in one awful night of ruthless efficiency. The rest of the tale (all seven books worth) is taken up with how our group of teenagers — Ellie, Homer, Robyn, Chris, Corrie, Kevin, Lee and Fiona — fight back against the usurpers in an attempt to wrest their country back… and how they find out who they are along the way.
Homer is the class clown, hiding an indomitable will and an immense inner resolve; Robyn is the religious one, with an inner-peace and a quiet strength; Chris is the misunderstood genius; Corrie, the insecure sidekick; Kevin, the blustery bloke who’s scared of his own cowardice. Lee is the pragmatic, sensitive soul and Fiona is the perfect little princess, who never puts a foot out of place. And then there’s Ellie: frank, headstrong, steadfast Ellie, who knows what has to be done and does it, to save her friends, her home and her country.
Throughout the books of the Tomorrow Series, these characters develop and evolve in ways they could never have imagined in their comfortable, pre-invasion worlds. Through staggering victories and crushing defeats, their greatest triumph is in their loyalty to each other; and in their courage. Marsden’s words — Ellie’s words — paint such a picture of all of them, their foibles and their weaknesses and their assets, that they become like old friends. And yet they’re only sixteen.
This series is extraordinary, full of action, drama, suspense, self-sacrifice, and above all, love. It moved me, swayed me and shocked me to the core. The unsettling notion that war could come to where you live and take away all that you consider yours is terrifying: and yet, it is only when you realize what you have to lose that you learn what you have. And that what you have, you really want to keep.
Ellie’s awesomeness is carried on in a gut-wrenching follow-up trilogy, The Ellie Chronicles, which looks at her life after the War, and at how Australian society copes with some new, not entirely friendly, neighbors. The trilogy is eminently enjoyable, and Ellie is in fine form, but the original series – which I dare anyone to begin reading and then not feverishly see through to the end – remains a landmark in Young Adult literature whose like has never been seen, before or since.
(Though, yeah, it’s a little like Red Dawn.)