When I saw this sitting on the shelf at my husband’s library I was beside myself with excitement. You see, I had no idea that Marsden had written a new book about Ellie and her friends from the Tomorrow When the War Began series. This book is set after the war. The series had seven books in it and you’ll see if you look at my Bookshelf that I list one of them there. That’s because they are some of the best books I’ve ever read. The basic plot is not unlike the 80s movie Red Dawn–a country is suddenly invaded and teenagers fight back. Unlike the movie these books are awesome. Marsden is Australian and thus in these stories it is Australia which has been invaded by an enemy country. Throughout the seven books (which, by the way, came out first in Australia-I found myself ordering one of the books from amazon.uk because I couldn’t bear to wait for it to reach the U.S. market) Ellie and her friends Homer, Fi, and Lee become guerrilla soldiers fighting back against a cruel enemy. They are incredibly effective and experience true warfare. That is to say they kill people and some of their own comrades are killed, too. By the end of the series the war has ended. So I was pretty surprised to see this follow up book, though it makes perfect sense because one does wonder–the war is over, now what?
Well it turns out that one resumes going to high school and working on one’s parents’ farm. Of course, being Marsden, turns out that the war might be over but the fighting is not and Ellie is once again in life and death situations. Marsden’s descriptions of such situations are every bit as tense and exciting and well drawn as they are in the other novels. In this book, though, the relationships between Ellie and her friends are not as big a part, though. Which makes sense because the bigger story in this installment is what is life like post war? Ellie and her friends were fighters, soldiers, people who created and used weapons, defended themselves and their country, witnessed death, and even killed. It seems so absurd that now she has to worry about homework assignments and catching the schoolbus. And yet, she does. Here’s why these books are so great, and yet also so difficult to read. The stories are compelling action adventure stories, but you can’t think of them as just that. Instead you think and think and find yourself in the shower thinking things like “But if Ellie doesn’t try to create some semblance of a normal life then she has nothing left to live for.” or “I guess that in all war torn countries people have to hang on to some sort of hope, isn’t that what makes us human?” I felt like Ellie carried such a burden of her past life (which wasn’t all that long ago-a year maybe!) and I felt like standing up for her when she dealt with petty bureaucrats and teachers and saying “she’s experienced more than you ever will! She’s not a child!” and excusing her from daily life. And then try getting a handle on this–Ellie and her family and friends and neighbors never did anything to the country who decided to invade her country and yet…here it is post war and the peace agreements have left them practically struggling to survive, with property and goods taken from them. It seems horribly horribly unfair and frankly, it hurts to think of it. You see? You see how these books get you thinking about war and how it affects citizens on a personal level? Be warned–these are some intense stories. I remember reading the first books and at one point they have a radio they listen to and they sporadically get a British radio station and hear reports in which the war they are a part of is talked about by American and British politicians. Those countries talked about trying to send aid and support Australia and made formal resolutions about how they supported Australia. That really got to me because it made me think about how often I heard reports as I got ready for work (this was a few years ago) about Afghanistan and here I was in my nice house with my nice clothes and electricity and food and my life was still going on as normal when there could be people at that moment just like Ellie and her friends-surviving on their own, thank you very much, coping as best they could, huddled about a radio listening to a world which now seemed like something they’d never see again or be a part of again. So, if that’s what I couldn’t stop thinking about during the first seven books he wrote, what I can’t stop thinking about since reading this last book is what life must be like in a post-war country where peace agreements have been made. Sounds good from here, but what’s the reality?
I’m assuming there will be another book because there’s no way with the ending of this book that he can stop there. And I sure hope he won’t. Do yourself a favor and start with book 1 (Tomorrow When the War Began). With the tv writerss strike you know you have lots of time to read and these are better than any action show on tv these days.