The plot in TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden is one big reason I didn’t like the book.  For the books I’ve blogged so far, once I’ve hit the halfway point of the book, I’m hooked.  By two-thirds of the way through if you interrupt my reading, I’ll growl at you.  I always ask myself one question when I finish a book; why did I keep reading? Usually the answer has something to do with the plot.  I needed to know if the main character would live.  I wanted to know the answer to a provocative story question.  I had to find out if the luckless lovers ever stop being star-crossed.  If it doesn’t have something to do with the plot, it probably has something to do with the writing.  For example, in THE BOOK THIEF the writing is just so beautiful and mesmerizing that I just enjoyed the turns of phrase.

My reason for finishing TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN was because I knew my co-worker who recommended it would ask about it.  Also, sometimes a story ending can knock my socks off.  If that happens, I can forgive whatever tedium I endured to get there (SIXTH SENSE, anyone?).  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.

Because every book is a learning experience, and because I doubt my little blog is going to hurt the sales of this series hit, I’m going to talk about the plot choices that didn’t work for me.  As always, this is just my opinion and I encourage you to read the book and judge for yourself.

  • The book is a flashback and throughout the book, the smaller stores are told in shorter flashbacks.  The book starts with Ellie announcing that she’s going to “write down everything that happened.”  Her friends are crowded around her, shouting advice.  So, what does that tell me right away?  Ellie survives the book and so do most of her friends.  As the story progresses, the teens discover that it is smarter to travel through the occupied town of Wirrawee in smaller groups.  Usually they creep stealthily in pairs.  Since TOMORROW is told from Ellie’s point of view, we only see her and her companion.  Everyone else has to tell the story of what they’ve been through when they get back to the point of view character.  Flashback, flashback, flashback.  And, again, if you’re there telling me the story, I know you made it through OK.  You lose valuable tension with this method.
  • The plot gets bogged down in details.  Ellie lists the things that they bring on the original camping trip.  She lists the things they need to set up camp outside of town.  And again when they decide to make it a more permanent camp.  And again when they make plans to fight back against the invading army.  I actually can find a laundry list interesting sometimes.  Maybe one in a book works for me.  Not this many.
  • It just doesn’t feel like there’s much direction.  Once the teens get back from their camping trip and realize that something horrible has happened, they systematically go to each person’s house.  It’s almost half of the book before we really get an action sequence.  I don’t feel like there’s a natural endpoint to this book: one enemy soldier that offers a specific threat; a ticking clock and a goal to complete in that time frame; a puzzle with a solution that would mark the end of the book.  To me, this book actually felt like only part of a book.

If I could play fantasy writing group and had a chance to critique the plot of TOMORROW, here’s the advice I would probably give (everyone’s a critic, right?).  I would explore moving out of the first person point of view.  This is a book that I think would gain more immediacy if it was told in real time and if the point of view shifted among the characters.  I would probably try to shorten the account of the camping trip and limit some of the description to pick up the pace.  And I would probably advise the author to give the team of teens a clear, active goal that it takes them a while to solve.  For example, the town of Wirrawee was attacked before the rest of Australia because it’s in a strategic location.  Maybe the kids could find out that they need to intercept a key convoy before a specific time.  Much of the book could be spent puzzling out this problem.

But, then again, maybe that’s why Mr. Marsden is a published author and I’m an unpublished amateur blogging about his book. 🙂

On Wednesday, I’m completing this analysis by looking at the writing style which I thought was one of the more charming things about the book.  I enjoyed the Australian voice.  Until then, I hope everyone has a great week.

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