Australian author John Marsden's first book in the best-selling Tomorrow series. It was first published in the early nineties, and the series ended in 1999 with the publication of the seventh and final book.

The basic premise of the series is that a group of teenagers goes camping in a remote area of the Australian bush, and when they come home a week later, the country has been invaded and their families imprisoned.

The story is written by Ellie, whose experiences are told honestly and realistically, but with the sensitivity one expects from Marsden. The action scenes are fantastic, and in all seven books Marsden never points the finger at any specific country as "the bad guys", although we know New Zealand are on our side.

This is one of the best books I have ever read, and I recommend it to anyone over the age of twelve.

The series consists of:

Tomorrow, When the War Began
The Dead of the Night
The Third Day, the Frost
Darkness, Be My Friend
In the Dead of the Night
The Night is for Hunting
The Other Side of Dawn

I can remember the first time that I read this book it was in one sitting as I just couldn't stop reading. By the time I had finished I realised it was dark outside. My mother is a big fan of the series also.

Since 1998 I have also run a website about the Tomorrow series and have answered many questions about the book as well as being mistaken for the author many times.

The latest news I have heard about the film adaptations is that the rights had been bought by a Sydney based production company who plan to produce all the movies in the one year.

Review

As it's been a few years since I first did a review of this book and the fact that I have now read it about four times as well as listening to it once on tape, I thought I should take the time to have a look at it again.

The format I will take in this review is to give my feelings on each thing I consider important in turn: story, characters, situations and the language used.

What I like so much about the story is that it starts out like a normal description of a camping trip by a girl with her friends, but before long something much darker has been foreshadowed.

My favourite part of the story would have to be the description of the characters first reactions to the situation they find themselves in. On reading this section I always get a sinking feeling in my stomach as the way the story proceeds just seems to be spot on and very graphic.

I suppose most people's favourite sections of the story would be the descriptions of the characters 'in action' around their home town. Probably the fact that I have read this book a few times, means that they have lost their impact for me. If you were reading it for the first time however, you would probably get more of a sense of suspense and excitement from these passages in the story.

As I don't want to give away the ending, I'd just like to say that I thought it was very well handled and seemed to be a fitting end to the story.

The character development of this novel is something that also stands out. In the start of the story, it is established that there is really nothing special about the people being described by the narrator, they could be your own friends.

What is done very well with the characters, is that they are portrayed realistically and not idealised or made into heroic figures. Their reactions are what you would expect to the things they experience. How they interact with one another in these situations is also portrayed truthfully.

Considering the topic of the book, I believe the situations show are fairly realistic. As I have no experience in living in a war zone, I can't really tell you what degree of realism they really possess. All I know is what I have seen through the news media about East Timor and similar countries experiencing conflict.

The 'sneaking around in the dark' situations in this book also seem to be well written. Probably the closest thing you could get to experiencing the same situation of 'sneaking around' in real life, would be to join an organisation called the Cave Clan (after you turn 18 of course), as they regularly explore places other people don't want them to be.

On repeated readings, probably the only thing that doesn't seem to stand up as well to scrutiny is the language used. Given the original audience of the novel, this can be forgiven as it suits the style the narrator adopts to tell the story.

I am reluctant to say if this book is the 'best' in the Tomorrow Series, but as it was originally written as a 'stand alone' book and not meant to be a continuation of a story, it does seem to stand out as a great book in its own right.


Synopsis

The following contains spoilers for the book

A group of friends go camping in a remote valley named Hell for a week. They expect afterwards to return to their homes and find everything as it was before, they couldn't be more wrong.

Due to a conversation that took place the day before they were due to leave, the main character (Ellie), is on edge when the group seems to take too long to get back to her home.

Her fears are realised when she finds her house deserted, and even more frighteningly, the working dogs are dead, still chained to their kennels and the electricity and phone have been cut off.

Seeing the situation at her house, Ellie suggests they go to Homer's house down the road. On finding that house deserted, some hard truths have to be confronted and plans have to be made.

After deciding to wait until dark, the group go to the houses of Kevin and Corrie. From there they decide to go check out their home town of Wirrawee to see what has happened since they left there.

In town they run into trouble when Ellie, Corrie and Kevin are shot at while checking out the showground, where they inhabitants of the area are being imprisoned. This leads to an explosive situation where the three only just manage to escape.

On rejoining the rest of the group, they realise to their horror that Robyn and Lee have not returned. Deciding they can't wait any longer, they return to Corrie's to regroup.

As their minds are on other things, the group is surprised by a helicopter patrol and they see to their horror that Kevin's dog, Flip, is outside barking at the chopper. They only just manage to retreat to the shearer's quarters out the back when an enemy jet appears and destroys Corrie's house.

After waiting for Corrie to calm down, they carry out Homer's plan of gathering supplies for their camp in Hell. Ellie and Homer decide to go back into Wiarrawee to try and find out what happened to Robyn and Lee.

On arriving at Robyn's house, Ellie surprises Robyn, who then faints. A while later they learn what has happened to Lee, so they decide to go pick him up from parent's restaurant and get out of town.

In an impressive sequence, Ellie drives a truck which has a shovel on the front (which they put Lee into), but by this stage they are being chased by soldiers in vehicles. They manage to lose them and head out to another rural property to swap cars. Just as they are dumping the car in the dam, they find Chris, who has been hiding on his property for a week.

For about a week or so, the group recuperates in the safety of Hell. Finally, they decide to send another group out for an information gathering mission in Wirrawee, while the rest of the group improves the camp.

When the others return, Homer decides they should do something more to help the war effort. Something that would set the enemy back in the invasion of the country. As I don't want to give away the ending, all I will say is that involves a petrol tanker and a major feature on the highway that runs into Wirrawee...

It's a film now. The books were great, and someone finally decided to do something about the noticeable lack of movie. It's been out for a week and a day so far, and it's already grossed $AU5m. As you can expect, from such a fantastic series of books (well, at least the first three) the movie version has to be absolutely epic to match it. High expectations, hella pressure, on the cast and crew. So, how did it do?

I'm not going to bore you with the synopsis. It's almost exactly the same. It would be word-for-word if not for a few minor little tweaks - updating to the 21st century with mobile phones and broadband, a few little jokes that were never in the books, third-person point of view throughout most of the film and almost no narration, etc. The things that Hollywood likes. You expect that coming from a film adaptation anyway.

Characters: Bear in mind that everything from here on in is my opinion and based purely on my imagination as I read the books. YMMV. Also, spoilers follow.

Ellie Linton: Ellie was almost dead perfect. A tweak to the storyline saw her see the face of the soldier she killed with the lawnmower bomb, which IMHO changed her too quickly, too early. She still had the gritty determination that the Ellie in my head had, and the Ellie in the books had. She was also shown to have a much more realistic life pre-war than the books showed, but there's not much a book can do without rambling on. During the war, she was brilliant. When Chris fell asleep at his post, the sequence following was - hands down - the most powerful sequence in terms of character development. Ellie is afraid, but she's sure as hell not taking it lying down.

Homer Yannos: Word association meant that I pictured Homer initially like Homer Simpson. When I got over that, I imagined him a lot more Greco-Australian than the actor, and a lot balder. So, yes, he looked different. But that aside, he was very outback Aussie, which is exactly what he was supposed to be. He was pictured as being a lot wilder pre-war than the book's equivalent, but that's more of a comic relief bit. I enjoyed seeing him walk out of the cop shop wearing a T-shirt saying "F*$K THE POLICE". I also appreciated the rapid change he went through when he realised the war was happening. I would have appreciated him more if they'd have included a sequence in the book involving him smashing a mug in the fireplace. Maybe that's my testosterone talking.

Kevin Holmes: Oh yes, they got this guy down pat too. I imagined Kevin being bulkier but the Kevin in the film was a lot more appropriate for this weasel. Yes, I said weasel. In fact, the film probably made him more weaselly. For one, running away from Ellie and Corrie just after the Showgrounds scene; for two, refusing point-blank to be proactive. He was always a different kind of afraid - the kind of afraid I'd likely be if war suddenly broke out.

Corrie Mackenzie: One thing about reading the book first is that the ending is spoiled. I knew her house was doomed, and I knew she was a dead girl walking. That might have ruined Corrie a little bit for me. Corrie's character didn't quite feel captured on the silver screen, but she did a pretty good job of it. I didn't see much of the farm girl that was present in Corrie in the books. Otherwise, not a bad job; again, another transformation that the war made. Near the end, she wasn't as unconscious as she should have been, but having said that, it seems more powerful this way. I could be wrong.

Fiona Maxwell: Fifi? FIFI?!? Really? She's not a poodle FFS. Again, I had a different idea. The Fi in my head was a lot more timid. Spoiled a little, yes, but timid. And she seemed less graceful in the movie as she was in the books. Dainty: yes, though I didn't like the accent. I did, however, like the two-minute noodles bit. So, less right than the others but not a bad effort.

Lee: Lee wasn't given a surname in the books. He's been given a surname for the movie, but I'm not putting it here. Anyway. Unfortunately for Lee, his best bits come in later books, after he finds out his family has been killed. Otherwise, he was more or less dead perfect as well. I can't remember if Lee was ever in a war before the one in the books (i.e. in his childhood), but he sure as hell acted like he had, especially early on when the kids (yes, they're kids, even to me) were still sussing out Wirrawee.

Robyn Mathers: Robyn was the least like my imagination. I always thought Robyn was stronger, more athletic, and less dainty than she was portrayed. They got the religion and pacifism down well. One bit I was very disappointed with was when Homer and Ellie discover her and Lee, and she was using her Dad's walking stick instead of a gun to scare people off. I suppose that Ellie needed to figure out Robyn's identity real quick, and you can't capture Marsden's explanation well on film. It slows the sequence down. I liked her twisting her own dad around her pinkie; it annoyed me that Ellie didn't, because I feel that in the book, this was pivotal in Ellie's early development was a leader.

Chris Lang: Again, Chris looked different in my head; now that I've seen him, however, the Jack Black lookalike is perfect for him. Yes, he was good. The stereotypical stoner who has luckily escaped capture so far, is mostly apathetic about the war (a side effect of the weird shit he smokes, no doubt) and doesn't do anything proactive (there's that word again...) until the end. Good work.

Settings

Wirrawee: Could have been downtown in any farming community. I was impressed.

Hell: I imagined Hell to be bigger somewhat. It was beautiful, though.

The Showground: What can I say? Chronologically, it's the first really gripping part of the dystopia that Wirrawee has become. And yes, it was powerful. One scene involved a man being shot dead at point-blank range for simple disobedience. We never saw that in the book. It really nailed the whole idea of the war in fifteen seconds flat. I looked away. I don't look away from movies for much, if I'm in the cinema. (Otherwise I don't have a very good attention span for movies, except recently for Dr. Strangelove. But I digress.)

Plot

As I said, the plot was almost word-for-word. They left some bits out, changed some bits, and added some bits. That's usual. Of the bits they left out, I think the worst loss was the Hermit and his hut. The book gives a great parallel of how the Hermit, like the kids, hides in Hell, away from his past life and away from the devastation (although, unlike the Hermit, the kids actually do something about it). If sequels are made, I doubt the Hermit will be touched on. Pity.

Of the bits that were changed, the worst was the lawnmower bomb sequence, as I said earlier, and the fact that all eight of the kids went to blow up the bridge (although it did make for good character building, particularly Robyn and Chris). The whole idea of that sequence was for Ellie and Fi to gossip about Homer - juxtaposing war and peace - and for triumph to be brought swiftly down by the harsh reality of war (as opposed to having the two mixed together). To put it another way, the audience isn't supposed to know about Corrie being shot before Ellie does. The best bits were both sequences where the kids are put under pressure from extra bullets flying at them; first at the Showground, second at the Heron Bridge. It gave the movie a sense of panic that the books never gave. Ever. (That's not to say that the books didn't convey panic in their own way, though.)

Of the bits that were added, I enjoyed Homer's comic relief most. This was all confined to before the war (surprise surprise) and kept in good taste. I didn't enjoy Kevin bringing Flip along everywhere, mostly because this shows him as being a bit stronger than he was in the book (i.e. defying his friends' best suggestions).

Of the rest: well, there's not much else I can say that hasn't already been said. My testosterone nagged at me the whole time the Heron Bridge was being blown up - in a good way, mind - and I would have loved to have seen the kids doing the wheelies on the golf course. A sad loss, but a minor one. I also saw every single catastrophe coming, but then, that's not what the film is about. Much like the Harry Potter series, the assumption is that everyone has read the book to begin with. This is not an exaggeration. The books are mega among the 15-to-21s, and also very popular in other age brackets. (Hell, I first heard about them when I was 10.)

Conclusion
If you had high expectations for the movie, they should be met. If they're not, that's not a bad thing, because the books were incredible. Still, it's worth going to watch, if just for the explosions. I give it 9/10. Great acting, great progression, and way too overdue.

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