In much fiction the topic is dealt with by many authors as the former rather than the latter, especially in the genre of young adult adventure fiction. There are, however, exceptions to the rule. And many of those exceptions are truly exceptional.
Australian author John Marsden’s seven novel Tomorrow series, starting with Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993) and followed by The Dead of Night (1994), A Killing Frost (1995), Darkness, Be My Friend (1996), Burning for Revenge (1997), The Night is for Hunting (1998), and The Other Side of Dawn (1999), is a rip-roaring action adventure series, but it doesn’t glorify war in the way one might be led to expect. Instead, it explores the idea from an emotionally-introspective perspective and doesn’t shy away from demonstrating the psychological and human toll that is often the result of war.
Chronicling the story of a group of rural Australian teenagers caught up in a fictional foreign invasion of their country set at some point in the near future, it is told exclusively from the perspective of farm girl Ellie Linton in a quasi-journal entry format. Going for a camping trip in the Australian outback, Ellie and her group of friends escape the initial invasion, but are now fugitives in their own country. Returning to a mountain fastness, they decide to wage deadly conflict against the foreign invaders.
Admittedly not usually breezing through young adult novel series as my general literary fair, I found the Tomorrow series to be a decidedly different case. Poignant and moving at times, readers will experience much of the fear, terror, courage and anger Ellie and her friends experience as they fight a guerrilla war against the occupiers. Adults will find the novels far from exclusively valuable to teenagers alone, but well-written adventures that hardly stand being pigeon-holed into the young adult genre.
Focusing on the emotional struggles and desperate insecurities of teenage narrator Ellie Linton, the Tomorrow series is really Ellie’s series. A strong female protagonist who often has to make the hard decisions and lead her sometimes less enthusiastic male counterparts, there are definite feminist elements to the series.
The most fascinating and endearing aspects of Linton’s character, however, are her overwhelming modesty about her heroic acts and the depth of her leadership abilities, even when she is constantly second-guessing herself, her decisions, and her actions. Ellie never views herself as a hero, but merely as someone forced into a role that should never have been thrust upon her. The deep divisions between her heroic actions and how she often negatively views herself are an exploration not only of modern teenage emotional issues, but how they might be enhanced or exacerbated by circumstances beyond one’s control. In short, Ellie never gives herself enough credit.
Those familiar with the 1984 film Red Dawn (as well as the 2012 re-make) would find the Tomorrow series to be familiar territory, focusing on the exploits of a group of teens fighting back against a foreign occupation. The book series was a huge success in Australia, but for obvious reasons is less well known outside of that continent.
Spawning a feature film by the same name in 2010 and starring Australian actress Caitlin Stasey in the role of Ellie Linton, the film has been compared to its American counterpart, and has sometimes been dubbed the “Australian Red Dawn” in pop culture. A worthy adaptation with an ensemble cast, the film — although a huge hit in Australia — failed to break through to an international audience, and it is unclear if the rest of the series will be filmed as originally planned.
Embarrassingly, it must be admitted it was through this genre of entertainment that I first became aware of the Tomorrow series, for it ranks among some of the more cardinal sins of the bibliophile to have watched the movie first, rather than reading the novel.
While the book series has deeper meaning and explores important topics, the action sequences spiced throughout are pure page-burners which leave the reader on the edge of their seat, filled with covert engagements and guerrilla actions against the enemy, as well as thrilling chases through the Australian outback on foot or in vehicles. In this sense, the Tomorrow series hardly disappoints. Still, it is the emotional and narrative plot developments regarding human interrelationships in the novel that keep a reader changing pages throughout.
Although never specifically referenced, there are hints throughout the novel series the invading army are a coalition of Asiatic peoples looking to wrest Australia from its predominantly white middle-class Western population. Criticism has sometimes been levelled at the novel series (as well as the film adaptation) that it incorporated racist elements into the plot by creating a “whites versus Asians” conflict and resolution. From my perspective after reading the series, I find it hard to believe Marsden is a closet racist looking to stir up bad feelings between Australia and her Asian neighbours. If he was, he would have taken his ending to the series in a profoundly different direction, of triumph and victory over the Asiatic hordes, as opposed to one of peace, compromise and conciliation.
Taken as a whole, Marsden’s Tomorrow series is exceptional adventure fiction, spliced with an exploration of the capacity for evil on the part of both occupier and guerrilla fighter, as well as the necessity to confront evil both within and without ourselves.