I mentioned in my last post that the writing style in TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden, was one of the more charming things about the book.  Despite all of my complaining about the over-detailed story-telling and pacing issues and the lack of tension, this book has voice.  I feel like there’s a tough, young Australian person telling this story.

Consider the opening paragraph of the book:

It’s only half an hour since someone–Robyn I think–said that we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.  Rack off guys!  I’ll never get this done.  I haven’t got a clue where to start and I can’t concentrate with all this noise.

To me, this definitely sounds young.  The run-on sentences read like a rush of excited energy.  If it wasn’t for the Australian slang glossary, I wouldn’t know what “rack off” means (Go away) but I would guess that it’s something like “leave me alone” based on the context clues.  Since I don’t know what it means without a glossary, it definitely sounds foreign.  Even without the story summary on the back of the book, I would have guessed that it was set in Australia or New Zealand.  That’s one pretty darn good voice!

Admittedly, I thought that the voice was that of a male character.  That’s something I would like to explore.

I once read on an agent wish-list that she was looking for strong female protagonists and that doesn’t mean girls that act like boys.  I was left wondering…what does that mean?  What if the strong female protagonist isn’t boy-crazy or tends to be mechanical or isn’t particularly in touch with her feelings?  Certainly, we all know real life girls and women like this.  Yet, in this book where the main character, Ellie, is aggressive, somewhat emotionally shut off, and great with heavy machinery, I came to the wrong gender conclusion.

I wanted to look at some of the reasons that I thought that the point of view character in this book was male.  The first descriptive clue you get about the point of view character is on page three.  That’s where you learn that she must be female.  By that time, she’s already been aggressive towards her peers (with the “rack off” comment), mentioned that someone male named Chris might be upset that she was chosen to write the group’s history instead of him, and made a couple of blatantly defiant statements.  To me, this set her up as male.

As the book goes on, even though I know Ellie is the girl leader with two male love interests, I’m thrown by her admiring attitude towards the beautiful Fi.  She’s the only person in the group capable of driving heavy machinery.  She makes a bomb and uses it against the invading enemy.  Why can’t a girl do these things without gender ambiguity?

So I leave you with this question, is the problem Kate-the-reader or John-Marsden-the-author? Am I gender biased or is Mr. Marsden having trouble representing the internal thoughts from a female perspective?  How do you create a strong female character or a sensitive male character without blurring the gender lines?  If you’ve read the TOMORROW series, or you just have an opinion to share, let me know what you think

I’ll see you on Friday with some writing thoughts.  Until then.

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