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

October 30, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I can’t believe I had never heard of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series until I saw the movie poster for Tomorrow, When the War Began (review here), the first book in the series.  For years one of the most critically and commercially successful book series for teens not just in Australia but across the globe, and recommended for young people when I was a young person, but for some inexplicable reason it had completely fallen beneath my radar.  Shame on me.

The movie was fairly good, but nothing spectacular.  A bunch of country kids go camping, an unknown foreign enemy invades, the kids have to decide whether to hide or strike back.  By Aussie production standards it was extremely impressive — up-and-coming stars, big sets, massive explosions, potential for sequels (the second film, based on The Dead of the Night, has reportedly commenced filming).

After discovering how famous and popular the book on which the film is based was, I decided to check it out.  It’s always somewhat dangerous to read a book after you’ve seen the movie because you already know exactly what happens (more so than the other way around), but I figured the book must have its lofty reputation for a reason.

The book is written in first person, from the point of view of Ellie, the teenage protagonist.  Marsden does a fantastic job of emulating the voice and tone of the teenage narrator, capturing her fear, courage, confusion and angst in a surprisingly realistic way.  I recall lambasting the cringeworthy dialogue of the film, but on the page it came across as genuine, for the most part.

However, I’m not sure if it is because I felt I already knew the story and the characters, but it took me a while to get into the flow of Marsden’s narrative.  Coincidentally or not, it was when the book started to diverge from the film version that I began to feel the compulsion to keep the pages turning.  While the film focused primarily on the action, Marsden took considerably more time to develop his characters and deal with the complications that come with teenage relationships (especially those blossoming during a full blown war!).  This brought the characters to life and made the book a much richer experience.

Perhaps I’m getting too old for this kind of book, because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  Nevertheless, having finally read the novel, I can definitely see why the series is highly recommended for teenagers.  It’s a well-written tale of self-discovery, friendship, love, courage and standing up against evil.  No doubt more suitable for today’s youths than stories about vampire and werewolf boyfriends.

3 out of 5