John Marsden—Tomorrow, When the War BeganRead about another entry on the list.
Five kids “go bush, go feral,” for a few days during the holidays. They’re allowed to do this because Australian kids are not mollycoddled. As predicted, the worst thing that happens is that they find a snake in one of their sleeping bags. However…when they get home to their rural farm houses they find their parents missing, their animals dead, something seriously wrong with their world. So begins what is possibly Australia’s most popular speculative fiction novel of all time (with over three million sales to prove it and the #1 ranking on the Better Reads 2013 Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads List). As it says in the blurb for my yellowed old copy, “the first of a trilogy, When the War Began is truly an insomniac’s nightmare.” I list it here because kids who don’t read anything will lose sleep to finish this series. Adults with genre boundaries suddenly don’t care that it’s young adult or speculative. An addictive adventure/mystery story set in a future Australia that is pretty scary for kids, invaded by people (we never know exactly who) who plan to either enslave or kill the existing inhabitants, this book echoes the brutal colonial history of Australia and reflects upon the impact of WWII upon the Australian character, as well as offering insight into contemporary life as a young Australian growing up in a rural town.
Although the premise is quite brutal and the realities of life as bush fugitives are never denied, this is also a story that appeals to many Australians’ (young and old) fantasy of living life off the land, or at the very least somehow learning to negotiate its treacherous and beautiful nature.
Marsden’s perspective: This was my country; I felt like I had grown from its soil like the silent trees around me, like the springy, tiny-leaved plants that lined the track.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is among Janet Manley's six great Australian YA lit classics.