I grew up in Kazakhstan and went to a private international school. My little clique of friends in high school consisted of Americans, Australians, and Indians. One benefit of such a community was the chance to experience the pop culture of countries outside of America, such as when my friends Mel and Patti introduced me to Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.
I enjoyed Tomorrow and its sequels so much that for years I have praised them and recommended them to others. I’ve kept an eye out from time to time for them in bookstores (to no avail), and in university I chose to do a project on John Marsden for which I read three of his non-Tomorrow books: Winter, So Much To Tell You, and Letters from the Inside.
Last year when I read The Hunger Games trilogy, I was ecstatic to discover Katniss Everdeen, for she was the first character I had read that reminded me of Ellie Linton, the heroine of the Tomorrow series.
Recently I came into possession of the series, and after ten years I have been reunited with Ellie and her friends. Even though so much time has passed, I still find the series to be just as entertaining as I did when I first discovered it.
Tomorrow, When The War Began: Series Overview
The Tomorrow series follows Ellie Linton as she and her friends find themselves at war, their country invaded, and their families captured.
Tomorrow, When The War Began (Book One)
They’ve got no weapons–except courage.
They’ve got no help–except themselves.
They’ve got nothing–except friendship.
How strong can you be, when the world is full of people trying to kill you?
Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first of an enormously popular series that has been translated and published all over the world. It is the book that started the series that became the legend… (Blurb)
Narrated by Ellie Linton, in an attempt to ensure that the risks and sacrifices made by herself and her friends are not forgotten, Tomorrow, When the War Began is about a group of teenagers who find themselves cut off from their families when an enemy nation invades Australia.
Ellie Linton and her best friend Corrie Mackenzie plan a camping trip out in the bush with a few of their school friends. Uninterested in the upcoming festivities for Australia Day, the teenagers pack up and drive into the Outback. Their destination is Hell, a remote sinkhole to where local legend claims a murderer once escaped and lived out the rest of his days.
One night while she is trying to sleep, Ellie hears airplanes flying overhead. When she mentions this to her friends the next day, the others confirm that they, too, also heard several pass over.
Returning home, Ellie discovers her house abandoned, her family’s livestock neglected, and her dogs shot dead. Going from house to house, it becomes apparent that none of the teens’ families are to be found.
While the teens were camping in Hell, a foreign country has invaded Australia. The townspeople of Wirrawee have been rounded up and forced into a makeshift prison camp at the fairgrounds. Ellie and her friends are forced to survive on their own. Hell becomes their retreat, and eventually the gang decides that they can’t sit and wait to die.
So they fight back.
“This was my dear Corrie, my lifelong friend… my sister.” (281)
Corrie is Ellie’s best friend and fellow country girl. She plans the camping trip with Ellie that keeps them away from town when the enemy swoops in. Corrie is dating Kevin.
Corrie doesn’t interest me as much as she probably should, but she’s an important character to the book.
The protagonist of the story, Ellie is a rural girl who still gets excited when she sees traffic lights and is a big fan of sheep.
Ellie’s cool except when she obsessing about boys. Then she acts like an idiot.
Fiona “Fi” Maxwell
“Fi was the only person I knew under sixty who said ‘gosh’.” (9)
A townie, Fi comes from a wealthy family and is out of her element in the bush. She sometimes struggles with the stress of her new life, and if anyone is going to cry when things get tough, it’s Fi. However, she doesn’t complain or drag the others down. Fi is extremely helpful and is very enthusiastic about learning not just how to “rough it” but also how to be a rebel.
Fi is pretty cool and provides a sense of innocence and naivety to the group.
“She’s small, Robyn, but strong, nuggety, and beautifully balanced. She skims lightly across the ground, where the rest of us trudge across it like it’s made of mud.” (13)
Robyn is “strong” in just about everything. She is the gang’s conscience and encourager. A Christian, Robyn lives out her faith in her words and actions, and even though Ellie does not believe like her friend, Robyn is not ashamed to offer her own Christ-centered perspective on life.
Robyn is awesome, and I love her.
“He was known for having a big ego and he liked to take credit for everything…” (14)
Of all the characters, Kevin is the only one Ellie doesn’t really like. He’s a lot of talk and little action, dragging his feet and going back on his word when he gets scared. His one redeeming quality is his commitment to Corrie.
Kevin’s kind of a “meh” character.
“Homer was wild, outrageous. He didn’t care what he did or what anyone thought.” (15)
Ellie makes several allusions to the fact that in their pre-war lives Homer was the class clown and troublemaker. She is taken aback at the emergence of Homer as the group’s leader and doesn’t mind butting heads with him when she thinks he’s being an idiot. Homer is interested in Fi.
Homer is my favorite character.
“Lee was good at Music and Art; in fact he was good at most things, but he could be very annoying when things went against him. He’d go into long sulks and not talk to anyone for days at a time.” (15)
A townie like Fi, Lee is Vietnamese-Thai and rather quiet. It’s clear from the get-go that Ellie has a crush on him.
He freaks me out. There’s something sinister about him.
“Ninety percent of the school thought he was weird, ten percent thought he was a legend, everybody thought he was a genius.” (154)
Chris was invited on the camping trip but was unable to go. Having stayed home from the fairgrounds the day of the invasion, Chris has spent his time alone, hiding from soldiers and trying to maintain his family’s property. He joins up with the others when he catches them outside his house.
Chris tugs at my heartstrings.
Whenever I tell someone about Tomorrow, I inevitably hear, “Oh, it’s like Red Dawn.” I recently watched the 2012 remake of Red Dawn (I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the 1984 film), and yes, I can see the similarities. But Red Dawn is a boy’s film: it’s macho, shoot-em-up, save-the-girl, explosive and fast. Red Dawn is like watching Neverland’s Lost Boys fighting Captain Hook with guns and bombs.
The book Tomorrow is more introspective.
A major theme of book one is seeing past labels. This is articulated in Ellie’s perception of Homer.
Homer is described as being a wild and carefree spirit. He and Ellie have been neighbors and friends their whole life. They are very similar to each other: headstrong and tough. However, throughout his life, Homer has been classified as a troublemaker and clown. Before the war, he was the teenager who got in trouble both with school and the law. In some ways, his mischievous and bad-boy past benefit the group – he knows how to sabotage. He knows how to disrupt authority.
Yet Homer is also a natural-born leader. If Ellie is the heroine of our story, she shares the role with Homer. Ellie might not see herself as a leader (although the others do), but she and Homer work together to prepare the teenagers to fight.
“Homer was becoming more surprising with every passing hour. It was getting hard to remember that this fast-thinking guy, who’d just spent fifteen minutes getting us laughing and talking and feeling good again, wasn’t even trusted to hand out the books at school.” (104)
In other ways, too, Marsden proposes the notion that our perceptions of others are often simply a reflection of ourselves. Ellie is forced to reevaluate her friends and her world. The events of the novel shake her worldview and her understanding of her friends. She has carefully labeled and categorized the world only to discover that humans are uncooperative.
“’Why did people call it Hell?’ I wondered. All those cliffs and rocks, and that vegetation, it did look wild. But wild wasn’t Hell. Wild was fascinating, difficult, wonderful. No place was Hell, no place could be Hell. It’s the people calling it Hell, that’s the only thing that made it so…
It was the same with Homer, the way for all those years he’d been hanging a big sign around his neck, and like a fool I’d kept reading it…
No, Hell wasn’t anything to do with places. Hell was all to do with people. Maybe Hell was people.” (44)
I really love this story. There are a few things that I dislike about it. Ellie develops strong feelings for two of the male characters, and it’s utterly ridiculous of her, even though it’s rather realistic. It still makes me mad.
But that’s pretty much the only thing that I dislike about the book.
Don’t watch the movie. Just don’t. Read the book first. The movie spends it’s first half as a cheesy teen flick and the second half as a war film. It’s just not that great. I liked it, but my goodness, the book is so much better.