Tag Archive: John Marsden


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.

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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.

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.

To deconstruct TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden, I moved outside of my comfort zone in a couple of different ways.  First, the author of this book is Australian. The main character’s voice definitely reflected that.  Since this is my first Australian author (I usually favor American and British authors) the glossary of Australian slang terms at the beginning of the book came in awfully handy.  Second, as the title suggests, this is a book about war.  I’m not usually a big fan of war stories but I didn’t think THE HUNGER GAMES was going to be my cup of tea either, and I devoured the whole darn series.  So, on the recommendation of a co-worker, I decided to give the TOMORROW series a try.

Mr. Marsden runs a pretty awesome website.  Aside from being a national and international bestselling author, he is also a teacher.  He started and runs a school called Candlebark in Australia on 850 acres of natural bush.  In addition to that, he also seems to be an all around good fellow.  He made passionate pleas for compassion for refugees during 2010 Refugee Week.

John Marsden is best known for the TOMORROW series and the companion books, THE ELLIE CHRONICLES.  However, he is the author of other young adult fiction such as the award winning SO MUCH TO TELL YOU and non-fiction like THE HEAD BOOK.  Furthermore, TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN is about to come out as a movie.  You can watch a trailer here.

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN is a story told from the point of view of Ellie Linton, an outdoorsy, capable teen living in rural Australia.  She and six of her friends decide to go camping for a week in the Australian bush.  Their destination is a secluded, overgrown crater in the Earth called “Hell”.  It’s so secluded, that the seven teens are completely unaware that their country, starting with their hometown, is being invaded and taken over by a foreign power.  When they do return to civilization, their town is bombed, the townspeople are prisoners, and the war has begun.

OK…so I have a confession.  I swore I wasn’t going to blog about a book I didn’t love.  So far I’ve managed that, even if I had to quick-read something new because my intended blog topic didn’t turn out to be stellar.  However, I wasn’t wild about TOMORROW.  It could just be me…I know someone who is finishing book 10 and couldn’t be more thrilled.  So don’t let my lukewarm reception turn you off if it sounds interesting.

It does have an appealing voice and an intriguing premise.  I’m going to look forward to talking about some of the aspects of the book that didn’t work for me.  I hope you get something out of the deconstruction of a book I wasn’t in love with.

Until Friday.

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