Tony’s Review…Tomorrow When the War Began, John Marsden


Tomorrow was one of the first YA books I read as an adult. My wife had read them, and kept telling me to read it. I bought Tomorrow When the War Began, and was blown away by it.

Re-reading it, it’s got me hooked all over again.

Marsden has an uncanny ability to get right into the heads of his characters, to make you think and feel exactly as they do. Every emotion and sensation, every smell and nuance comes alive on the page. Although a story about teenagers going through a war isn’t new, Marsden brings a new angle to it. If you ever want to know how shooting someone – even an enemy of your country – would really feel, it’s right here. How the vomit would rise in your throat, how the cold fear would lock up your legs and your brain as bullets fly towards you. How watching your best friend for life get shot would make you feel.

This is no Hollywood film where death and emotion are cheap. We go through everything the main character goes through, the highs and the lows.

The YA field and the world have moved on since this was published in 1993, so none of the characters has a cell phone or smartphone (A scene they changed in the movie with good comic effect), and oddly, the characters feel at first like a 1950s bunch with their dialogue. None of them swear – even the ‘bad kid’ never utters a profanity. Not that they need to; just a reflection on how YA evolves.

One of the things I noticed on a re-read is how Marsden lets our imaginations fill in what the characters look like. Beyond describing them in basic details, like the colour of their hair and their eyes, everything else is left to us. I didn’t realise until the re-read that Ellie the main character is stocky, for instance.

Every character starts as a stereotype, simple for the effect of blowing those stereotypes out of the water. Lee the quiet boy becomes a killing machine. Homer the clown becomes a leader. Fi the gentle becomes brave and utterly fearless. Never judge by appearance, Marsden shows us, and here is why.

It’s more of a character driven story as well, I now realise. In some ways, the war is secondary to the characters and how they evolve. Marsden wants us to see them change, and the agent for that change is not really important.

Simply superb. Marsden should be regarded – and in some places he is – as one of the best YA writers there is, and it’s books like this that make you realise why.

He really is that good.

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