TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden is another book where the setting is as important as the characters.  Actually, it’s a pretty cool set-up.  We have the fairgrounds in the middle of Wirrawee, a small town in Australia where this story takes place.  The fairgrounds are where the townspeople are being held by the invading army.  Surrounding the fairgrounds is the town–a blown-up abandoned tangle of streets.  Surrounding Wirrawee is the rural farmlands where our main character lives.  Surrounding the farmland is the Australian bush.  Since I enjoy symmetry, the concentric circles worked for me.

When the characters enter the bush, they travel along a ridge called Tailor’s Stitch and climb down the cliffs into a crater named Hell.  This is where I start to have trouble with the setting as a reader.  Where some authors are sparse and light with description, Mr. Marsden is detailed and exacting.  I might even venture to say that the setting description is ponderous at times.  On the one hand, it created a vivid mental image of the Australian wild.  On the other hand, some descriptions of the setting are so extensive that I was getting impatient, skimming, and skipping whole paragraphs.

In the afterward, the author states that he based much of the setting on real places.  I don’t know if that might be part of the problem.  He seemed so intent on the reader seeing his version of the setting, that he seemed unwilling to leave much of anything up to the reader’s imagination.

The characters in this story are eight school friends.  Seven of them go on a camping trip and miss the foreign invasion.  The eighth survives the invasion in the town without being captured and joins up with the campers later in the book.

The main character and the point of view of the story is Ellie, an aggressive, rugged, capable young woman.  She’s the person who arranged the camping trip and she convinces her friends to make the precarious descent into Hell.  Here’s the odd thing (and I don’t know what it says about me): I kept thinking that Ellie was male.  Before names or genders were revealed, based simply on the voice, I was so sure this character was male that when her gender was revealed, it was actually jarring to me. That continued for me through the whole book, even though she has two male love interests. I’m not sure if this is my problem for buying into gender stereotypes or Mr. Marsden’s for not representing women accurately.

Perhaps if you’ve read TOMORROW, you can help me out.

The rest of the friends are a pretty typical ensemble cast.  The nearly as rugged, almost as capable, always faithful best friend (Corrie).  The troublemaker turned brilliant strategist (Homer). The beautiful rich girl who is tougher than she looks (Fi).  The genius, sensitive, artistic love interest (Lee).The best friend’s boyfriend (Kevin).  And the fainter (Robyn).  We are repeatedly told how each character blooms under pressure.

OK…sorry, sorry, sorry.  Like I said, I had trouble with this book so delving into it deeper is taxing my good nature.  But, again, let me remind you that this is the first of a wildly successful ten-book series.  Lots of people loved the TOMORROW series.

If you’ve read it, let me know how you feel.  See you Monday.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.