Tomorrow, When the War Began takes place in the fictional small rural Australian town of Wirrawee. Ellie and her high school friends Corrie, Homer, Lee, Kevin, Fiona and Robyn wanting one last adventure set out to go camping in a remote area of the bush dubbed by locals as ‘Hell’.
One night they see a large number of planes flying overhead without lights. Although they discuss this the next morning they think nothing more of it. When they return to Wirrawee they find the town is deserted, as they return to each of their homes they find their parents are missing, power is out, and pets and livestock are dying.
The group soon learns that Australia has been occupied by unidentified foreign military force and their families have been taken prisoner. Marsden deliberately does not identify the country or countries invading Australia nor does the novel cover the war from outside Ellie’s perspective or from what she learns through her friends.
This novel is not about war, it is about how eight* young Australians react to war. *Fellow student Chris joins the seven following the invasion.
Marsden was watching an ANZAC Day parade and observed a large number of teenagers present. He wondered how they would react if they were in the same position as their grandparents. Marsden believed that today’s teenagers would “dig deep and find reserves of initiative, maturity, responsibility and even heroism”. He also wrote Tomorrow, When the War Began as a response to the negative representation of teenagers in the media.
Although the novel does feature violence, it is not graphic in its portrayal of the horrors of war. It focuses more on the characters internal struggles, such as Ellie battling with having to take someone else’s life in order to defend her own. The novel does feature some romance between the teenagers as Ellie develops feelings for Lee, Homer is smitten with Fi, and Corrie and Kevin continue their relationship. Ellie writes the journal as an official record of their experiences, rather than a personal diary, so her personal feelings of romance do seem a little out of place. It would be quite awkward for Lee to read this official record I would imagine.
The novel was released in 1993 and other than that today the characters would have mobile phones and wireless internet connections it has not dated.
In 2010 a film adaptation written and directed by screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Australia) was released. A television adaptation is currently in post production and will screen on ABC3 in Australia in 2016.